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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

T.C. Boyle - Budding Prospects **

For a long time, I've wanted to read a book by T.C. Boyle. He's a pretty respected guy in the world of literature, and his work has even produced the wonderfully clever 1994 film, The Road to Wellville. So when I was in one of my Frenzies last summer, I finally picked up what sounded like the most interesting of his novels, Budding Prospects, advertised on the back cover as something of a slapstick adventure of three friends trying to make a half-million dollars from growing pot in the woods of Northern California. Of course, everything works against them, from torrential downpours to a psychotic cop, and it all spirals out of control, resulting in hilarity.

Hilarity... right. I admit I laughed a few times, smiled a couple times. But hilarity? I'm not so sure. The idea of Budding Prospects is a great one, and in theory, all of the pieces of the puzzle should come together without issue. But somehow, Boyle just can't translate it onto the page. Maybe it's because he seems like he's only half writing from his brain, spending too much time with the thesaurus open on his desk to impress me. I'm sure that's not the case--Boyle has a great command of the English language--but form should fit content. If you're writing about a bunch of doped-up potheads, they should speak like doped-up potheads, not Yale graduates. I can see how this style could work well in a turn-of-the-century tale like The Road to Wellville, but here it is just reaching too far.

Reaching too far, also, is the story itself. With its inconsistent tone, the whole plot begins to unravel. As I slogged through the pages of grey space, I realized that I didn't believe the characters or anything they were going through--especially the "crazy" things that kept being thrown their way. What works for Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry works for them because of how they present it, but when Boyle attempts to present ridiculous, pseudo-deus ex machina situations, they seem far too contrived and way too unbelievable to even be funny. Then, in a final act of indignation, the ending of the novel completely resists enough deus ex machina to be satisfactory and falls flat on its face. I was going to hand Boyle a solid three stars until I came to the last five pages of the novel and just felt as though I had wasted all of my time and emotion. I know it's really cool to end stories anti-climatically because it's so "real," but in the case of a story that has basically been led by the extremely apparent hand of the author, realism is thrown to the wind anyway--so embrace it!

But I won't be completely discouraged. The promise in this book was definitely there, and since it is obviously rather atypical of Boyle's style, I will definitely be trying him out again. This time, though, I think I'll stop by the library first. This buying books on a whim thing totally has to stop.

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