When I was a kid, I read the book Chalk and Cheese by Adele Geras about two sisters who were, unsurprisingly, as different as chalk and cheese. To describe In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree and American Flowers, both by Michael A. McLellan, as being as different as chalk and cheese, would be a bit of an understatement.
The first book I read, In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, features freed slave Henry and runaway rich girl Clara as they try to leave their previous lives behind. After losing his girlfriend to a snakebite, Henry narrowly escapes being hanged to go and live with the Cheyenne people, while Clara leaves home to get away from her controlling father who disapproves of the father of her unborn baby.
Through a series of attacks on the Cheyenne people and American soldiers, Henry and Clara reach their destination, only for Clara to have a miscarriage and die next to the father of her baby once they have been reunited. The book itself doesn't so much end in any form of resolution, other than the protagonists getting what they wanted only for it to not end up as they thought it would.
This seems to be a theme within McLellan's work, as the protagonists in American Flowers sure as hell don't end up in the situations they thought they wanted at the end.
Essentially, it's Requiem for a Dream for the 2010's. Starting with Chris, the high school baseball pro turned meth addict, meeting Allie, a runaway teen, in his dealer's house, the two become progressively more and more addicted to meth and end up on the run from the police.
Sliding further into addiction, Chris begins dealing to fund his habit and ends up selling to a 15 year old who dies of a heart attack. Blamed for the teenagers death and suspected of ratting out his dealer to the police, Chris and Allie wind up involved in an armed robbery which leaves four people dead and start their lives on the run from the authorities via motel-room murders, kidnap and a hell of a lot more meth.
Eventually, the two are discovered asleep in the woods and are taken in by a local woman who lets them stay with them while they detox, only to shoot Chris in the head when he refuses to hand himself in and leave Allie to get on with her life. While she didn't get what she wanted, to spend her life with Chris, she got what she needed.
I'd thought of ending this post with a comparison of sorts, but there really isn't room for it here. As with author's I've enjoyed in the past, the style and subject matter of McLellan's two text are such polar opposites that it would be impossible to compare and contrast them without falling into writing a full blown essay. The texts were both incredibly interesting and covered both brand new subject matters and topics that I've read time and time again. American Flowers is not something I"d recommend to anyone upset by portrayals of drug use, but if you are interested in how death and mistreatment can be seen in both a historical and contemporary settings, then McLellan is an author I'd recommend.