A young family man escapes the Great Recession by driving marijuana cross-country, raking in good money and bad vibes.
“Drive fast and swerve a lot” is the joking advice drug dealers give mules like James, an unemployed freelance journalist who begins driving pounds of weed from California to Florida to make ends meet when he and his pregnant wife fall out of work. Of course, the job involves a stressful amount of careful attention to detail, not just to the speed limit but to the type of car, its plates and the safest routes. Some early pages shoehorn in an overabundance of detail about the legal complexities of the gig, but the book is largely a propulsive and intense journey into the degradations of living in the black market. James’ story begins in the middle of 2006, the start of the U.S. economy’s latest stumble, and as the markets collapse he takes some comfort in the large wads of cash he accumulates. But happiness is fleeting and, as D’Souza reveals, ultimately inaccessible. Sub-dealers break promises, which leads to violence; the business demands keeping secrets, which slowly drives a wedge between James and his wife. The book is a departure from D’Souza’s previous two novels, 2006’s Whiteman and 2008’s The Konkans, which focused on themes of race and assimilation, but he eases comfortably into this milieu: He’s clearly studied the mechanics of the marijuana trade, and he addresses it in ways that reject the simple moral boundaries of most cinematic portrayals of drug dealers. D’Souza captures the push and pull of James’ emotions, his paranoia and his frazzled rationalizations. James has a nerviness that makes him perfect for the gig, but it’s agonizingly clear how much he sacrificed to get it.
A smart and bracing ground-level exploration of the drug trade.