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    USC pharmacy graduate Ruth Madievsky explores opioid epidemic in debut novel
    • July 5, 2023

    Shortly after finishing her undergraduate degree at USC and entering the university’s pharmacy school in 2014, Ruth Madievsky began writing a series of short stories that would develop into her debut novel, “All-Night Pharmacy,” which is in stores on July 11 from Catapult. 

    “I kind of thought I was writing a feminist ‘Jesus’ Son’ of the opioid epidemic,” says the Los Angeles-based writer and pharmacist on a recent phone call. “That was the first thought that I had in 2014 when I was just out of undergrad, and like everyone else who took fiction classes, I wanted to write a Denis Johnson knockoff.”

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    In the beginning, Madievsky wrote one to two stories a year, motivated by author T.C. Boyle’s visits with USC’s Creative Writing Ph.D. students. Madievsky wasn’t in the program. In fact, her studies in the pharmacy school had her attending classes on a separate campus in another part of town, but she managed to get into those meetings with a new short story in hand.

    “He would very kindly compare it to Denis Johnson, who he had gone to Iowa with,” Madievsky recalls. “I feel like it was so clear at the time that I was still developing a voice and just imitating people, but he was very encouraging and those meetings gave me a reason to keep writing stories in this world.”

    By 2019, when Madievsky was working as a pharmacist in Boston, the stories had become a novel. “All-Night Pharmacy” weaves together themes of substance abuse and recovery, familial relationships and intergenerational trauma in the story of the unnamed narrator’s tumultuous journey into adulthood. 

    She says her professional training helped her in writing the book.

    “It did in some ways. I’m very into books about plotters and schemers and grifters,” she says, adding that she dreamed up the opioid scam in the book after studying the laws regarding pharmaceuticals and DEA reporting. “The background knowledge of how something like that would work was very helpful.”

    Plus, she says, in her day job as an HIV and primary care clinical pharmacist, she spends a lot of time talking to people about their priorities and concerns to try to help them find the right medication.

    “That work to figure out people’s desires and what they need to live meaningfully, I think that was pretty helpful with constructing characters for the novel too,” she says. 

    Madievsky adds that she was inspired by Rachel Kushner’s novel “The Flamethrowers” and Ottessa Moshfegh’s “My Year of Rest and Relaxation.”

    “I had that philosophy about describing the bar and the people who would be at the bar with this very intense specificity that feels both kind of unrelatable — I don’t think any of us have been to a bar where someone has a goat drinking beer — but also something about that specificity felt very L.A. and real to me,” she says. “Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it won’t.”

    The couple travel to Moldova, where the author also traveled during the course of writing the novel. Madievsky herself was two years old when her family immigrated from Moldova to the United States. She grew up in West Hollywood and then in Studio City. In 2019, she visited Moldova and Russia for the first time since her family left.

    “I really got to see firsthand what state-sanctioned anti-Semitism looks like,” she says. “I got to hear a lot of family stories about living under Soviet terror, some of which I had heard before, others I hadn’t, but it felt a lot more real in those places. I saw the wedding hall where my parents had gotten married, which was now completely abandoned, leaves everywhere, broken cement.”

    She adds, “Just being on that trip and seeing a lot of the family stories come to life really affected me.”

    With the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the war in Ukraine, the latter of which occurred while Madievsky was revising the novel, the author thought more about intergenerational trauma and family history.

    “Even traumas that are several generations back,” she says. “I was thinking about how those affect the living and people who are several generations past it and how that could be connected to family dynamics and addiction.”

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    “All-Night Pharmacy” evolved quite a bit in the years that Madievsky spent working on the book. But its conclusion brings the novel back to its roots. The end is derived from the first of the stories in this world that Madievsky wrote. 

    “That story, I was never able to publish it. Now, I think that rejection was so protective there,” she says. “How depressing would it be to have the ending plastered all over the internet?”

    Ruth Madievsky book events

    With Greg Mania, Jen Winston, and Laura Warrell

    When: 4 p.m., July 9

    Where: Dynasty Typewriter at The Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles


    With Jean Kyoung Frazier

    When: 7 p.m., July 11

    Where: Skylight Books, 1818 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles


    ​ Orange County Register