Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Mule

Summary: James and Kate are golden children of the late twentieth century, flush with opportunity. But an economic downturn and an unexpected pregnancy send them searching for a way to make do.

A winter in the mountains of California’s Siskiyou County introduces a tempting opportunity. A friend grows prime-grade marijuana; if James transports just one load from Cali to Florida, he’ll pull down enough cash to survive for months.

James navigates life as a mule, then a boss—from moneyhungry friends to gun-toting drug lords, from Sacramento to Tallahassee, from just making the weight move cross-country to making thousands of dollars a day. The risks keep rising, forcing him to the next criminal level. A kidnapping, a shootout, a bank vault—it all culminates in a swirl of action.

Absorbing and timely, Mule perfectly captures the anxieties of plunging into the criminal world and of being a young person making do in a moment when the American Dream you never had to believe in—because it was handed to you, fully wrapped and ready to go at the takeout window— suddenly vanishes from the menu. -- Mariner

When I saw that one of my go-to sources for book recommendations, Entertainment Weekly, gave MULE by Tony D'Souza a B+ rating, my curiosity was definitely piqued. MULE tells the story of James, a man who is down-on-his-luck as a journalist because of the recession. When his girlfriend becomes pregnant, James is desperate to support his new family and he turns to driving cross county to pay the bills. The catch is that he is trafficking drugs -- thus the title... MULE!

I had read that fans of the television series Weeds might appreciate this novel; and since Weeds was one of my favorite shows in its earlier days, I thought this book might be some ideal for me. And I do have to say that I did enjoy MULE, sometimes quite a bit; however, I don't think I loved it. I can't put my finger on why I felt this way because when I started assessing the novel to write my review, I found that I have many positive things to say about it. Maybe it was just my mood when I was reading it.

So instead of trying to figure out why I didn't love MULE, I'm going to focus on what was done really well in this novel. First and foremost, I thought the writing was very good. I was not familiar with Mr. D'Souza's other novels, but I will say that I can see why he is an award-winning writer. He managed to create an extremely interesting (and very complex) character in James, and I loved his voice and sense of humor... but more on James later.

In addition, Mr. D'Souza wove an intriguing story with lots of suspense and action... especially towards the end. I could feel the tension increasing as I turned each page, and I admit that I was on the edge-of-my-seat right along with James. I also appreciated that the author chose to end the book like he did. The conclusions wasn't tied up nicely with a big fat bow, and that was ideal since a neat ending wouldn't have worked for me in this story.

What actually blew me away about Mr. D'Souza and MULE is how real it seemed. It's apparent that he thoroughly researched drug trafficking because this book just resonated with honestly -- and details about the drug trade. For much of the story, I felt as if James were a real person and the book almost seemed like a memoir. I think that's a huge testament to Mr. D'Souza!

As I mentioned earlier, I thought James was just a fascinating character and so well-developed. I can't say that I liked him, and I definitely didn't condone his choice of careers, but for some reason, I couldn't stop reading about him and I might have even felt a little bit of sympathy towards him. Initially, his intentions are to run drugs just to make enough money so that his family wasn't in dire straits. However, when he got a taste of how much  money he could make, he couldn't (or didn't want to) stop. The money, itself, was a form of drugs for James and he loved that high -- as did his wife. But what I found so interesting about his character is that he almost seemed to thrive on how good of a mule he was. He knew the risks of transferring drugs and he also knew the types of people with whom he was associating, and he always seemed on the verge of quitting, but he just couldn't walk away. By the time he was truly ready to quit, he discovered that he was in much deeper than he first thought; and his life became absolutely insane!

I could honestly assess James and his actions for hours, but his actions (although extreme) represent so much about human nature. And that's why I think MULE would make for a very interesting book club discussion. There is a discussion guide available which delves into some very thought-provoking questions and you might be surprised to take a peek at them because you will see that MULE is not only entertaining, but also quite literary. There are questions on symbolism and themes that occur in the story as well as questions on the current economic situation and society as a whole. Some of the other topics you might want to explore include greed, fear, marriage, dreams, luck, morality, money, and love. Trust me. There are so many things to discuss in MULE!

If you are looking for something out-of-the-ordinary for your next book club meeting, then I recommend giving MULE a shot!


Sandy Nawrot said...

OK so it's NOT a graphic novel? Which was my impression by the cover. I can totally see how a family these days would do something like this. It wouldn't be a pretty story though. If it were a GN (I have been craving some) I would have grabbed it. Otherwise, I'm not sure if I'm in the mood unless it is a mind-blower.

Beth F said...

I have been wanting to read this since I first heard about it (at BEA, maybe?). I wonder if I have a copy. We love Weeds and I'm sure I'm going to like this too.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to see how you could easily get caught up in this world, and how dangerous it could be. I had never heard of this book (or author) before but I am now adding it to my list.

bermudaonion said...

This seems like a realistic story in today's economy. Even though I don't like the choice he made, I have to admire James for wanting to support his family. This book sounds fascinating to me.

Serena said...

This is outside my comfort zone given I don't watch Weeds and the actions seem outrageous....but then again wouldn't that be half the fun? I'm with Sandy...it seems that a graphic novel platform would be a perfect fit here. surprising that it is not used.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

For some reason I just dislike books about drugs and drug trafficking. I agree though it should be a graphic novel!

Beth Hoffman said...

Though the subject matter of this book isn't for me, I really enjoyed reading your review.

Alyce said...

That reminds me of my reaction when I read The Financial Lives of Poets (also about someone who gets into selling marijuana out of a desperate need for money). It was a surprisingly entertaining book.