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Detroit Muscle by Jeff Vande Zande


An Oxycodone addict just out of rehab, Robby Cooper has debts to pay and a pregnant ex-girlfriend. As Robby struggles to jump-start his life on the crumbling streets of Detroit and its suburbs, his grandfather Otto invites him on a fly fishing road trip to northern Michigan. Driving his grandfather’s ’68 Firebird, Robby begins to understand how his family’s dysfunction spans generations…

Detroit Muscle is available from and directly from Whistling Shade Press.


“Jeff Vande Zande’s Detroit Muscle ripples with tight, coiled detail and dialogue as he weaves a compelling story of lives haunted by the mistakes of the past—how quickly things can spiral out of control, and how hard it is to rein them back in. Vande Zande offers no easy resolutions to his characters’ dilemmas, focusing instead on the difficult loosening of the tight knots of these battered hearts.”

—Jim Ray Daniels, author of Eight Mile High, among others

“Detroit Muscle is a fearless examination of family and of loss, a picaresque novel about putting these shattered pieces of our lives together again—to examine them, to understand them, and to see how, if at all possible, we can move past them. A moving and marvelous novel.”

—Robert James Russell, author of Mesilla and Sea of Trees

Excerpt from Detroit Muscle

The therapist jots something in his notes. “So, right now, what are you doing to cope when you do have a craving?”

Robby shrugs. “Mostly listening to music.”

The therapist scratches down a few words. “Does it help?”

“I’ve always been able to get lost in music. It takes my mind off things pretty quickly.”

“That’s excellent. You already have a tool that’s working for you.” He sets the pencil in his lap and steeples his fingertips against each other. “Another thing you can do is focus on the consequences. Don’t think about how good it would feel to be high. Think instead about the negative things that using brought to your life. Think about how you’d feel about yourself afterwards. Think about what Tiffany or your mom or your old boss would think if they saw you using again.”

Robby rests his forehead against his palm and looks at the floor.

“I know that sounds harsh, but thinking about the consequences can be a powerful motivator to keep you from slipping back into the behaviors that made you a person that you don’t want to be. Right?”

Robby doesn’t look up, but nods his head. A tear falls between his legs and disappears into the carpet.

The therapist is quiet. Then, he clears his throat. “Do you have a sponsor?”

Not looking up, he shakes his head.

“Well, it’s not an integral part of the program that you’re in. Still, it is an option. It gives you someone to talk to who has been through what you’re going through.” He waits for Robby to look up. “Do you think that you would like a sponsor?”

“Not really.”

The therapist nods. “Fair enough. You have that emergency number if you ever really need to talk with someone without fear of judgment. Nevertheless, talking with someone who has been through addiction can be different than speaking with someone on a hotline. It can allow you to be more open than—”

“I don’t want a sponsor.”

The therapist nods and then writes something down. He looks up from his pages. “Well, with the time we have left, I’d like to talk about the history of your addiction. Would that be okay?”

Robby shrugs. “That’s fine. Whatever.”

The therapist smiles. “How is it that you started using Oxy?”

He blinks and then looks at a folder sitting on the side table next to the therapist’s chair. He motions his head toward it. “Isn’t that all in my file?”

“A version of it, yes. But, I want to hear your version in your own words.”

Robby sits up and leans back into the chair. He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “Not much to the story, really. Not last October, but the October before that I was working for a roofing company. I fell off a ladder and hurt my back. My doctor had me on OxyContin at first when the pain was really bad. Friends came over and showed me how to break the pills into powder and snort them. It was pretty much downhill from there.”


Robby nods. “Guys from a band I used to be in.”

The therapist picks up his pad and writes. “Do you still see these friends?”

“No. Two of them are in Kalamazoo. I haven’t talked to them in over a year. And Duffy, our lead singer, is in seminary school.”


He nods. “Duffy never touched the Oxy. He just drank now and again. Not much of that, either. He was always pretty straight-laced.”

The therapist re-crosses his legs. “How long did the doctor have you on the medication?”

“He didn’t want it to be for very long, but I was lying to him about the pain. It wasn’t until January that he said he wanted to try to switch me over to Tylenol.” He shrugs. “It didn’t matter by then because I’d already found a way to get the stuff without a prescription.”

Detroit Muscle by Jeff Vande Zande ©2016

Jeff Vande Zande teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Delta College. His books of fiction include Emergency Stopping and Other Stories, Into the Desperate Country, Landscape with Fragmented Figures and Threatened Species and Other Stories. His novel American Poet won the Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author and a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan.


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