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T. Coraghessan Boyle: Budding Prospects: A Pastoral

In his follow-up to the historical Water Music, Boyle turns to the present day and the joys of marijuana growing. In fact, this novel could be said to be something of a parody of the American agrarian novel, with its joys of life, sex and crop production. As well as being a parody of the agrarian novel, it also mocks the American ideal of getting rich quick(ly) (with the minimum of effort) and, as such, can be said to mock that great American sacred cow, capitalism.

Our hero is Felix Nasmyth who opens the novel by describing himself as a quitter.

I’ve always been a quitter. I quit the Boy Scouts, the glee club, the marching band. Gave up my paper route, turned my back on the church, the basketball team. I dropped out of college, sidestepped the army with a 4-F on the grounds of mental instability, went back to school, made a go of it, entered a Ph.D. program in nineteenth-century British literature, sat in the front row, took notes assiduously, bought a pair of horn-rims, and quit on the eve of my comprehensive exams. I got married, separated, divorced. Quit smoking, quit jogging, quit eating red meat. I quit jobs: digging graves, pumping gas, selling insurance, showing pornographic films in an art theater in Boston.

Felix is recruited by Vogelsang, a wheeler-dealer and successful schemer, into a scheme involving growing marijuana on a remote farm in California. Felix and his two friends, Gesh and Cherniske – Vogelsang is more of an absentee landlord, letting others do the work – set to work but soon find that growing marijuana is not as simple as they thought. Their problems range from floods and rats and bears to the local rednecks and the California Highway Patrol, in the form of Officer Jepbak who does not, of course, take kindly to the funny business going on at the farm.

As always with Boyle, the novel is very funny, often over the top and hands out a liberal dose of satire and irony. It does, however, end more or less happily, even if the threesome do not make the fortune they anticipated, which is unusual for Boyle. Maybe not his best work but certainly fun to read.

Publishing history

First published 1984 by Viking