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Boyle at his budding best
on March 12, 2005
"Budding Prospects" is T. Coraghessan Boyle's first novel, published in 1984. It tells the story of Felix, a 31-year-old directionless self-proclaimed quitter who joins up with a handful of ne'er-do-wells to grow marajuana in a "Little Appalachia" in California's Mendicino County. The get-rich-quick scheme soon goes awry. Felix finds himself at odds with a sadistic rural sherrif. The man who bankrolled the operation, a shady smooth-talking Marin County huckster, is not the man Felix thought he was. His hillbilly neighbors all seem to know what he's really up to on the isolated farm. Felix and his farmhand friends live in a permanent state of paranoia and fear.
I came to this book after reading Boyle's "Drop City," a comic masterpiece. I wanted to read more Boyle so I took up "Budding Prospects." I greatly enjoyed it. I was surprised to discover that "Prospects," although it is Boyle's first novel, mines the same themes as his later novels: the vast indifference and occasional ruthlessness of nature, the pleasures and occasional terror of altered states of consciousness, the insolence of office and the proud man's contumely. In common with his other novels, there is a strong beautiful woman in this one -- Petra, who comes to the rescue of the hapless Felix.
I lived in Northern California and the Bay Area for many years, and I can attest to how spot-on the characters and landscape descriptions are. The dingy cafe in Willits where some of the action takes place is sickeningly realistic. I hope that Boyle will revisit Vogelsang in another novel or a short story. ("Vogelsang lived in splendid isolation in the hills above Bolinas, making money nefariously, practicing various perversions, collecting powertools, wood carvings, barbers' poles and cases of dry wine from esoteric little vineyards like Goat's Crouch and Sangre de Cristo.") The rich Marin County huckster was just perfect. And, a little grayer, I'm sure he's still living near Bolinas, waiting for Boyle to revive him.