In this debut novel, a successful California business owner loses everything in the economic downturn and enters the gray market of medicinal marijuana sales.

While raising a family, Phillip McCalister, 40, has run a shirt-making factory in California. With the economy collapsing and huge payments due on his overpriced real estate, he’s threatened with foreclosure and must suspend operations. His wife files for divorce and moves out with their two young sons. The story of Phillip’s demise as a legitimate businessman and his reinvention as a purveyor of medicinal marijuana is told in flashbacks. The opening chapter and alternating chapters reveal a present-day legal situation in which Phillip faces undisclosed court proceedings. By the book’s conclusion, the two narratives have been linked and his fate is made clear. Following the loss of his business and most of his assets, he’s encouraged by Raul, a former employee, to exploit California’s arcane medicinal marijuana regulations. In many cases, it isn’t considered criminal to cultivate and distribute marijuana and edible, THC-infused products to California’s hundreds of medical marijuana clubs. With some brief market research and considerable expertise from his now-partner Raul, Phillip becomes a major player in the marijuana market. The two quickly make a fortune, with Phillip becoming “Jack Gram,” servicing various niches including “the Armenians over in Canoga and the surfers over in Northridge” as well as “the Russians in downtown” and “the Israelis, too.” The entertaining specifics about the marijuana industry indicate inside knowledge, and the varieties of product number in the dozens—including “Purple Urkle,” “Afghani Kush,” “White Widow,” “Pineapple Express” and “AK-47.” Alternating the chapters of Phillip’s current criminal problems with the back story of his growing involvement in the enterprise lends a modest air of mystery. Much less successful, however, are two unnecessary detours into explicit sex scenes, one involving Phillip’s soon-to-be ex-wife that offers little insight into their obvious marital dilemmas and the second coming across as an inexplicably raunchy male fantasy involving two sex workers and a night of endless pleasure. These episodes detract from a story with potential to shed light on how, after losing everything, a man can reinvent himself.

Jack Gram is no Walter White, but his entertaining devolution into the world of drug manufacturing is a decent hit of pot-lit.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615905891

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Fried Potato Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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