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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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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