When I heard of this book, it sounded like the real-life counterpart of Weeds: Donahue, an actress in career free-fall after a successful movie failed to result in a viable career, decides that raising pot sounds like a viable make-ends-meet option, and makes other highly questionable choices; some whacky and some racy stuff ensues.
In broad strokes that’s more-or-less accurate but almost completely misses the point, and misses the three things that I thought were really good about this memoir.
First, there’s the byzantine complexity both of California’s medical marijuana laws and actually growing the plants. There’s considerable detail about both, but Donahue never explains either in a very linear fashion; she reveals relevant details as she’s jumping through the particular hoops of the processes. If you’re as ignorant about both as I am — and I was pretty ignorant, I was unclear on what part of the plant turns into the stuff that gets smoked — piecing it all together has the sort of mental puzzle appeal I associate with much good sci-fi: how does this universe work exactly? Geez, that’s bizarre! But I can see how it’s barely plausible. (The legality side, in particular, has so much deep baked-in* weirdness that it’s really hard to believe.)
Second, there’s Donahue’s own ambivalence about what she’s doing. From the outset she considers her new lifestyle a trial run, a one year experiment to see if “pot farmer” is her destiny, or a way point. She’s only partly accepted by the in-caps Community that comes along with her new boyfriend and new homestead, and crucially, the more accepted she gets, the more she does things to challenge that acceptance. And her perspective remains that of an outsider throughout. Donahue is kinda new-agey by my standards, but when she uses the word “hippie” it’s not a compliment. Her general mild, but consistent, snark about her business associates and supposed peers might be a little wearing, in fact, if not for the third good thing about her book.
Most importantly, she writes like an author who once did some acting, not like an actor/ghost-writer pair manufacturing a book. Donahue’s prose is vivid and impressionistic. Some of the druggier bits seemed slightly addled, but on the other hand, the book actually enriched my vocabulary a little bit. (“Vellicate,” a word that turns out to have quite an interesting history, was my favorite addition.) The good writing carried me through a few bits where her borderline hypocrisy was irksome, or where I was impatient for Donahue to make the decision she was waffling about.
needs more demons? No. And I’m curious to see what Donahue writes next.