Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02; Madagascar 2002-03) has contributed to The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, Outside, Salon, Granta, McSweeny’s and other magazines. He is a recipient of the Sue Kaufman Prize, the O. Henry Award, the Florida Book Awards gold and silver medals for fiction, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His novel The Konkans, was a Best Book of the Year in Washington Post Book World, Christian Science Monitor and Publishers Weekly. Tony was nominated for a National Magazine Award for coverage of Nicaragua’s Eric Volz murder trial, all after he spent three years in Africa. He lives now in St. Louis with his wife, a graduate student in creative writing, and their two young children.
In September Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight, Tony’s third novel, will be published by Houghton Mifflin. It is a story of a young couple hard hit by the recession who turn to drug trafficking to make it through. Tony writes, “I spend years living up in the mountains of Northern California, met growers and drivers on my own, as well as through my wife, who grew up there. I won a lot of trust in that community. Everything in this book goes down just as it does in life, from production, to transport, to money laundering, to avoid the authorities. I couldn’t have written MULE without my various introductions to this underground world. Once in it, the journalist in me took over.”
This is the Kirkus review of Mule. It will run in next week’s issue:
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.