A high school teacher finds himself pulled into a drug-smuggling scheme in this philosophically charged novel.
Leslie is an English teacher in a town in Michigan—a handsome introvert who seems to be stuck in an uncertain romance with his college sweetheart, Cindy. Adventure beckons, however, when he receives an urgent letter from his old college roommate, David, who’s now in prison after having been caught in possession of a massive amount of marijuana. David needs money to pay for his legal defense, so he asks Leslie to travel to California to retrieve a cache of drugs and deliver them to contacts who’ll manage its sale. Leslie owes David a moral debt: when the two were in college, David was arrested and willingly took the fall for a drug sale that Leslie had organized. So, much to Cindy’s chagrin, Leslie drives out West make good on his promises. There is some adventure on this illicit road trip, as Leslie narrowly escapes New Mexico patrolmen, entertains a sexual dalliance with a flirtatious stranger, and attempts to sneak a colossal heap of marijuana past U.S. customs agents. But most of the book is devoted to Leslie’s inner monologue, which ranges broadly from the political to the philosophical. The crux of these ruminations is the gradual erosion of individual liberty in America—a theme that crescendos during a courtroom trial. Debut author Mangles displays impressive erudition on a range of topics as Leslie’s thoughts peripatetically roam from the deficiencies of existentialism to the nature of taxation and the designs of the Founding Fathers. The author’s philosophical ambition, as articulated in the book’s introduction, is an admirable one—to capture the essence of what it means to be American. However, the plot ends up being little more than a vehicle for lengthy, essaylike diatribes that stretch on for pages at a time. Also, the writing is consistently convoluted and clumsy: “Leslie looked toward the heavens to see the gravid moon disgorge its golden baubles of luminescence in an attempt to clarify this enigmatic world.”
Some thoughtful reflections hampered by turgid prose and a sluggish plot.