Monday, June 13, 2011

Heads You Lose

by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

One thumb each direction

Let me be right up front, and begin this review with the reason for the thumb down.  The primary characters in this book are pot growers.  Among some of their buyers are the typical college students and druggies.  But others are nursing home residents, nurses, staff and doctors.  Still more buyers are normal, everyday types who like to now and then smoke pot or sample from the "baked goods" line.   My issue with the book is that it portrays a worldview that sees marijuana use as mainstream.  I can't fully endorse a book that does this.  I understand that many people use pot regularly.  I also understand that in California, where the book is set, the demographics of marijuana use is probably skewed toward a more mainstream percentage of the population.  But I still don't like to see plots that portray illegal activity as normal.

The flip side of the portrayal is that most of those who are totally immersed in the marijuana use lifestyle are the stereotypical pothead types with little or no ambition and who struggle with concentration and memory.  This is a good thing to portray.  It reflects a large part of the pot culture, and the primary dangers from which the law is intended to protect.

Continuing to the thumbs up side of the book, the concept behind Heads You Lose, and its execution, definitely deserves a two thumbs up.

The entire concept of the book, and a big part of its artistic appeal, is the method of collaboration that Ms Lutz chose when she invited friend and poet, David Hayward, to work with her.  She sent her first chapter to Mr. Hayward with the suggestion that they take turns with the chapters, but that they don't consult together on plot ahead of time.  They were allowed to send brief notes along with each chapter, to which the other may respond.  They were allowed to add footnotes during each other's chapters.  But those brief suggestions and criticisms were the only interactions they allowed themselves.

The editors went along with this and the format in which the book is published reflects those rules.  What the readers get is actually both the story of Heads You Lose, and also the story of "The Writing of Heads You Lose".  There was a certain amount of (I think good natured) ribbing along the way as Lutz and Hayward tossed out ideas and criticisms in these notes.

Because of the style of story development, it's somewhat hard to summarize the plot.  In a nutshell, while Lacey is taking out the garbage late one night, she finds a headless body in her yard and frantically tells her brother, Paul, about it as she dials 911.  Before the connection gets through, Paul hangs up the phone.  Because Paul and Lacey grow pot professionally, there are some interior effects in their home that make a visit from the police undesirable.  After a little debate on what to do with the body, they wrap it in a tarp, load it in their pick-up, and drop it into a low spot along the trail at a nearby state park.

Unlike Paul, who is fine with this solution, Lacey feels responsible for the corpse and so cannot rest easily until the case is solved.  But as the bodies stack up, distrust and distance builds between Paul and Lacey; and one by one their friends and acquaintances start to seem shady, or even fearful.

There are some fun twists and turns as the two authors vie for the primacy of their favorite characters and ideas.  The notes back and forth often bring a smile or chuckle.

All in all, I found the concept a pleasing one.  As an aspiring author, I was intrigued by the idea of such an ad hoc collaboration.  I admired the creativity that was loosed in this endeavor.

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