Northern California Sinsemilla, known colloquially, locally, as Humboldt Gold, is the pot at the end of 31 year-old Felix Nasmyth's somewhat tarnished rainbow in T.C. Boyle's 1984 novel, Budding Prospects. When American literature's all-time championship slacker—pretty much now at the end of the rope he's woven from day dreams and crazy schemes—is given the opportunity to never work again, thanks to a fool-proof business plan involving the cultivation of cannabis sativa passed his way by Vogelsang, the ultimate mysterious wheeler-dealer, hilarity and a fantastical meditation on the death of the hippie ethic result.

This is the one Boyle wrote for fun, after pouring everything he thought he had at the time into his first novel, Water Music, a book that the Boston Sunday Globe says "does for fiction what Raiders of the Lost Ark did for film." The Village Voice put it best: "Boyle deserves it all: academic success and Tom Robbins's paperback sales."

T. Coraghessan Boyle's been getting praise like this all his writing life, and deservedly so. For audacity of construct and masterful, practically psychedelic use of language, only John Barth and Thomas Pynchon can match him. In the past twenty years, like a bantam rooster with a chip on his shoulder in a cage full of eagles with attitude, Boyle has clawed his way to the top of American Letters with consistently brilliant work.

You know why I can't get enough of him? Cause he's funny as banana peels, prune juice, soy, and your momma's combat boots. I'll read anything he bothers to set down just because of the way his mind works. Nobody can touch his similes:

  • "It was Rudy. Chinless, noseless, skin the color of ripe grapefruit…He was standing at the bar with a guy so short and deformed he could have been a chimpanzee dressed up for the occasion."

  • "I blinked at her two or three times. My eyes felt as if they were bleeding."

  • "An uneventful week slipped by, the heat like the flat of a sword, dull and stultifying."

  • "I felt like Sisyphus taking a five-minute break, like Muhammad Ali at the end of the fourteenth round in Manila."

  • "Gesh put out the poisoned baits that afternoon—marrow bones and kidneys soaked in strychnine—while Phil and I replaced the length of damaged pipe. The bloody heaps of flesh didn't look particularly appetizing, covered as they were with flies both quick and dead, but I assumed it wouldn't make much difference to a scavenging garbagophagist with a taste for plastic pipe and Campbell's Chunky Soup cans. I was wrong. As far as we could tell the bear never touched any of the baits, though one afternoon I did find a dead turkey vulture sprawled in the bushes like a discarded parasol."
Consider the comic possibilities of Felix's impossible dream: Vogelsang: the idea man, the guy who puts up the "seed" money, a pitch-perfect creation of shadowy wealth and decidedly curiously-acquired tastes in wine, very young women, and something he calls music. Felix, Phil, and Gesh: three of the biggest losers on the planet. 2000 marijuana plants on the side of a hill five miles from the nearest highway but not far enough from Willits, California. A nosy neighbor with a grudge. His half-wit son, more akin to Grendel than Forrest Gump. Sex-crazed under-age barkeeps in push-up bras. Rats, raccoons, and a red-necked Highway Patrolman named Jerpbak who wants Felix's ass on a plate.

Money for nuthin'. Chicks for free. It's the American Dream gone warped in the sun and the rain, viewed through the booze-and-dope haze of Self that is the legacy of the 60's. And I don't mean to make too much of this; Budding Prospects is after all, according to the author, "a pastoral." We are meant to laugh ourselves silly, even as we nod our heads in acknowledgment of Boyle's fine-wrought truths.

I'd like to challenge you to PUT DOWN a book that starts as wondrously as Budding Prospects:

"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, stuffed 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 hornrims, 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.

"When I was nineteen I made frantic love to a pinch-faced, sack-bosomed girl I'd known from high school. She got pregnant. I quit town. About the only thing I didn't give up on was the summer camp.

"Let me tell you about it."
Sound like anybody you know? No? Well then, you gotta meet this guy.

T. Coraghessan Boyle I mean.

He knows how to plant a seed and make it grow.

Budding Prospects, T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Viking Press, New York, 1984

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