The Rule Maker and Chasing the Dragon

Upon reading The Rule Maker and Chasing the Dragon by Benjamin Alire Saenz we come to find many similarities in both stories, from protagonists/antagonists, key literary elements, to overcoming misfortunes and tragedies. Here I will discuss not only equivalence but differences from both stories as well. This will done using various quotes and passages from both stories.


The first element and comparison I will be discussing might be the most important of all, why you might ask? Well, not only do these two stories have strong ties to The famed Kentucky Club but the significance of the bar is made evident from cover to cover. The setting in a story sets the atmosphere and can set the mood of the story. What we see in Chasing the Dragon our protagonist Conrad has an utter obsession with a photo of his parents, as seen in the following, “The photograph of the two of them that I am addicted to studying seems like a still from a movie”, “After that she refused to let him step foot inside The Kentucky Club, it was his favorite bar”, this photo of his parents (who had by then passed) means this is where it all began. Similarly, in The Rule Maker we also see the World Famous Kentucky Club as the birthplace of the story as seen in the following quote from Alire Saenz’s short story, “The Kentucky Club in Juarez? Yeah. But you said…It’s where you were raised (Juarez). Don’t you want to have a drink with your old man where it all started?” basically, Max’s father refers to The Kentucky Club and “where it all started” as where he met his mother.

Though both stories have strong ties to The Kentucky Club and mention it all “beginning” at the club, the difference between them is that only in The Rule Maker do we see the setting used with positive intentions, as Max and his father celebrate Max’s acceptance into college (as seen in the previous example). We also see how this particular setting creates a vulnerable state of emotion for Max’s father as seen in the following, “The only thing I remember about having a drink with my father at The Kentucky Club was my father telling me that he’d loved my mother “I loved her” and then I knew she was the one. She hadn’t loved him back”, Max’s father is portrayed as a tough and emotionless man but The Kentucky Club brings out a side of him Max wouldn’t had known otherwise.


Our next focus and comparison will be conflict, there are many conflicts throughout the story whether it is man vs self, man vs addiction and man vs death; though, we can tie all three to both stories we will turn our focus on man vs addiction. Both stories have very similar conflict involving drugs and addiction, both Conrad and Max slowly realize their loved ones are falling deeper into the drugs they use, inevitably losing their battle to addiction.

In Chasing the Dragon there are many examples as to where Conrad slowly realizes his sister Carmen is an addict, “Conrad, we’re all chasing the dragon. Me and drugs. I can’t stop I tell myself I’ll stop and I can’t. It takes away the sadness, and it makes things better and it makes them worse. I can’t stop I live for the dragon”, in saying so Carmen is accepting the fact she is addicted to the “dragon” which happens to be drugs. Though the situation is similar what we see in The Rule Maker is Max seeing his father falling into addiction, “He was coming off his high from last night. He lit his cigarette and his hands were shaking. Dad, you have to stop”. Max’s father seems offended when Max asks him to stop, Max get beaten for caring. Though both loved ones are addicts, only Carmen accepts and openly admits that she is, Eddie grows angry when he is confronted by Max as seen in the following passage from their confrontation, “Who the fuck do you think you are. And then I felt his fists on my jaw and I fell back into the ground”. The biggest similarity seen in these stories is, their unfortunate overdose. An overdose can be better understood by this article found on (

“Illicit drugs, used to get high, may be taken in overdose amounts when a person’s metabolism cannot detoxify the drug fast enough to avoid unintended side effects. Exposure to chemicals, plants, and other toxic substances that can cause harm are called poisonings. The higher the dose or the longer the exposure, the worse the poisoning.”

Basically both Carmen and Eddie greatly intoxicated their bodies with these drugs leading them to overdose and to their unfortunate death. The following videos gives a more detailed explanation of overdoses and experiences.


Our third and final comparison is epiphany, in both stories we see a moment of clarity in both Conrad and Max. According to scholar Ruth M.J. Byrne from the University of Dublin an epiphany can be further explained with the following:


“Counterfactual thoughts about what might have been (‘if only…’) are pervasive in everyday life. They are related to causal thoughts, they help people learn from experience and they influence diverse cognitive activities, from creativity to probability judgements. They give rise to emotions and social ascriptions such as guilt, regret and blame. People show remarkable regularities in the aspects of the past they mentally ‘undo’ in their counterfactual thoughts. These regularities provide clues about their mental representations and cognitive processes, such as keeping in mind true possibilities, and situations that are false but temporarily supposed to be true.”

For Conrad we see where he realizes he will never love again, “I had love only one person in my life. And that was my sister, the dragon I never caught. Some nights I wake in the darkness, and I know I’ve been dreaming of her. She looks like an angel. I see her handing me the needle. I see me taking it. I hear her whispering in my ear. Conrad, die with me”, by seeing her, Conrad feels he didn’t do enough for his sister maybe he feels he should’ve taken the needle and died with his sister. Conrad seems to feel he doesn’t have a future without his beloved sister Carmen. For Max we see what his father really meant to him, “His name was Eddie. Not Edward, but Eddie. He was the man who saved my life. That’s who he was”, basically Max is saying without his father he would’ve been lost, maybe even dead had he been raised by his mother, Eddie took him in and made him the man he is, with his “rules”, Max realizes that without Eddie he wouldn’t live as he is, in college and with a bright future ahead of him something he would have never achieved had he stayed with his mother in Juarez.


Though these stories are very similar they are unique in their own way, both take us into the mind of Conrad and Max to feel what they’re feeling during their hard times, both have similar misfortune, both are heavily impacted with the loss of their loved ones. These stories help us understand how addiction can strip you of your life, and the tragic, inevitable outcome of an addict.

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