Bookshots: 'The Marijuana Chronicles' Edited by Jonathan Santlofer

Bookshots: 'The Marijuana Chronicles' Edited by Jonathan Santlofer

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Marijuana Chronicles 

Who wrote it?

Edited by best-selling crime novelist and artist Jonathan Santlofer

The Marijuana Chronicles spotlights a diverse range of styles and genres, which...left me eager to move on to the next story and the next to see where the authors would take the theme.

Plot in a Box:

A themed anthology about the good ole whacky tabaccy.

Invent a new title for this book:

The I Can't Believe It's The 21st Century and This Shit is Still (Mostly) Illegal Chronicles

Read this if you liked:

The Cocaine Chronicles edited By Jervey Tervalon and Gary Phillips, Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran (I was actually a little surprised Gran wasn't in this collection. But then again, there weren't that many West Coast writers, which is a minor kerfuffle  I'll address a little bit down the line),Piggyback by Tom Pitts.

Meet the book’s lead:

A big old NOT APPLICABLE on this one, gang. It's an anthology, so there's too many characters and stories to narrow down a “Lead”.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Same as above.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The stories take place all over the world, so, yes to some, no to others.

What Was Your Favorite Sentence?

When I got loosely acclimated to marijuana, I realized it just put me to sleep and I was more interested in climbing the walls. I gave up the ganja.

- “Cannibal Sativa” By Dean Haspiel

The Verdict:

I'm a longtime reader of Akashic Books' “Noir” series of anthologies (Orange County Noir, Brooklyn Noir, and Phoenix Noir are particular favorites), but in recent years the “Noir” series has become a bit bloated and a little far reaching (Haiti Noir and Mumbai Noir, really?). So I was pretty excited that Akashic decided to launch a new “drug” chronicles anthology series in 2012, starting with The Speed Chronicles. Since its launch, we've seen The Cocaine and Heroin Chronicles (both of which were engaging and diverse reads) and I suppose it was only a matter of time before they got around to everyone’s favorite “gateway” drug, that cute, cuddly little Ms. Thing, Mary Jane.

Much like its predecessors, The Marijuana Chronicles is a mean and lean 233 pages. (Themed anthology editors, take note: I love short stories, but when a collection surrounding a single theme goes above the 300 page mark, you've lost me.) Santlofer's choice of work is as varied and diverse as marijuana's many users, and the stories range in styles from hardboiled crime to contemporary satire. There's even some poetry and graphic work in the mix, too. Highlights include Lee Child's “My First Drug Trial” (I have a love/hate relationship with Child: I HATE his novels, but his short fiction always manages to surprise me), “Zombie Hookers of Hudson” by Maggie Estep (Yes, it reads as it sounds: Weird, funny, and just a little sad), “Cannibal Sativa” by Dean Haspiel (The aforementioned graphic work, which focuses on the awkward, off-putting effect pot has on some users), ”Ethics Class, 1971” by Jan Heller Levi (A poem about an ethics teacher who asks his class if they've ever experimented with drugs, and then proceeds to turn in the students who raised their hands), and “Kush City” by Richard Mungo (Middle age man and long time Mexican swag smoker experiences the bliss of the pot dispensary boom in Southern California).

For readers looking for a straight forward crime fiction anthology, you should probably go elsewhere. As I previously stated, The Marijuana Chronicles spotlights a diverse range of styles and genres, which makes it far more engaging and left me eager to move on to the next story and the next to see where the authors would take the theme. My one beef with the anthology—and it is a minor beef—is the lack of west coast writers included in the book. I mean, come on, marijuana is such an engrained part of west coast culture that I can't help but think that one or three more writers out of California, Oregon, or Arizona would've brought a distinct change in tone and pacing. But overall, The Marijuana Chronicles is a solid—albeit much quieter—entry into what is shaping up to be a great anthology series.

Keith Rawson

Review by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 11, 2013 - 1:08pm

man, my history with Akashic is up and down. i thought there were some fantastic stories in Heroin Chronicles (will be reprinting one by Antonia Crane, in fact, in THE NEW BLACK from Dark House Press in 2014) but some really crappy ones, too. same for the noir series, some recent collections i read were really inconsistent, even "big name" authors disappointing. but, i think there is probably enough good fiction in here for fans of the weed to dig it, same with the heroin and cocaine. even with the BEST SHORT STORIES anthologies i usually dislike 20-50%. seems like you'd find something good in here, such as the ones you called out. good review.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago October 11, 2013 - 1:31pm

I think there is a lead: Weed. I'm curious about this anthology, Drug stories, in my opinion, are hit or miss. Either honest and touching or absuurd nonsense, I look forward to checking out this collection with an open mind in hopes these works examine the place Weed has in our society and lives.

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. October 12, 2013 - 5:04am

Nice review, Keith. Your comments make me giggle. I'm with peopel about the drug stories in general, but weed....I it even really a drug? I guess that's the point. I may have to check this one out!

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones October 12, 2013 - 9:34am

@Richard - I'm with you on anthologies in general. There seems to be a point where  editors seem to poop out, and of instead wanting nothing but the best,settle for just okay. This is particularly true when it comes bestselling/well known authors.

@Tom1960 - That's what the anthology manages to accomplish.

@leah_beth - I don't consider it a drug, mostly because its nonaddictive and medicinal qualities, and I think you'll enjoy the book. It's, for the most part, a light read read.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast October 13, 2013 - 4:56am

oooo - part of a series eh?

Weed is so not me, but an amphetamine-themed anthology tugs at my curiosity strings.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine October 13, 2013 - 5:43pm

Is this aimed at fans of the drug? Because it seems like the only installment in the series that could really get away with that. From Keith's review, it seems like there are stories from both sides of the fence. Personally, I'm not a fan of anything that tries to sell me on how "cool" drugs are. I find it super tedious.

Stephanie Bonjack's picture
Stephanie Bonjack from Boulder, CO is reading Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith October 14, 2013 - 1:11pm

I wasn't impressed by this collection, mostly because I found the writing uneven. Kudos to you Keith for the will to keep going. Bad apples in an anthology lead me to abandon ship!

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones October 16, 2013 - 1:05pm

@Josh - No, there's no glorification.

@Stephanie - In my opinion, this is a problem with most anthologies. I felt the level of stories was fairly consistent, but there were a couple of entires that you could tell the author wasn't comfortable with the short story as a form, and made them a bit clumsy.