Kai Ryssdal: We spent some time on the Occupy Wall Street protests earlier in the broadcast. A lot of the people who’re out on the streets, in New York and elsewhere, call themselves ‘the 99 percent.’ The other 99 percent, to be more accurate — as opposed to the 1 percent of the population that’s rich and all-powerful.
Author Tony D’Souza might agree that the two protagonists of his new novel belong in that bottom 99th. Before the recession, they were young, upwardly mobile. Afterward: they lost almost everything, not least of which was their jobs. So they resort to trafficking high-grade marijuana from California to Florida to make ends meet. The book is called “Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight.” Tony D’Souza, welcome to the program.
Tony D’Souza: Thanks for having me on.
Ryssdal: You and the main character in this thing, James Lasseter — apart from the drug-running stuff — you have a little bit in common. You’re both freelance writers, you both get married, you have babies, you lose your jobs, and it goes downhill in the recession unbelievably quickly.
D’Souza: What was most important to me in this book, I think, is to tell a recession-times story. I’m a freelancer, I’ve been freelancing long before the recession started. And when the recession hit in 2008, freelancing for me, my career, went off a cliff. So this guy has a similar career experience to me in that things are going great and suddenly it fell off a cliff, at the same time that he’s just gotten married and having a baby, which is also my experience. Well, I didn’t do the drug running.
Ryssdal: Let’s say that again: ‘I didn’t do the drug running.’
D’Souza: I didn’t drug running. I did the investigation into the drug running. The journalism side of me really enjoyed that, looking into drug running and money laundering.
Ryssdal: I will tell you, it’s clear this book is meticulously researched. I mean, I know more now about currency trafficking laws and how you might get pulled over in the state of Texas than I ever would have ever imagined I would.
D’Souza: The thing about these people is that they’re businessmen who run very complicated operations. It involves logistics, it involves people management skills, it involves meeting deadlines.
Ryssdal: Cash flow.
D’Souza: Everything. And on top of all the usual things of running a small- or mid-sized business, they have to deal with, if they make a mistake, they can go to jail for a long, long time.
Ryssdal: James Lasseter and his soon-to-be wife Kate, before the drug running part of this book starts, they’re doing all right. They’re getting by, they’re young, and they’ve got jobs and life is good. Now I want you to read just this little paragraph right here.
D’Souza: “We lived in that dream, breathing it, eating it. After more than a decade working in department stores, Kate had just been promoted to general manager of the downtown Metropolitan Apparel. She was 27, pulling in double anything she ever made in retail, feeling as big about things as I was. We were always together in the restaurants and clubs, celebrating our success like an endless coronation. All the loud people around us were doing the same thing.”
Ryssdal: Is there a generational thing here? I mean, the 20-somethings who knew the boom for so long and then hit the bust pretty hard?
D’Souza: I think it’s not just the 20-somethings, I think it’s the early 30-somethings, maybe it’s even a bigger group of people. But I think growing up in the ’90s was a boomtime in our country; the 2000s were great too. It just seemed like it was going to go on without end. And the things we’ve had to grow accustomed to and cope with and evolve with, I don’t think too many of us were prepared for. And you know, we have master’s degrees, we had professional careers, and those jobs don’t exist anymore for the most part. It’s hard to find work.
Ryssdal: There is a flavor, actually, of desperation in this book. I mean, you’ve got to be desperate to turn to running 10, 20, 30, 40 pounds of marijuana across the country?
D’Souza: You do have to be desperate. You also have to be a certain kind of person. So the opportunity to do this sort of thing doesn’t come around everyday. But there are people who turn their backs on it and their morals won’t let them go there. So I wanted to write about people who do go there. And it also allowed me to write about, I think, greed. Because they were pretty desperate to get into it. But soon their financial troubles are solved.
D’Souza: And they keep going. It’s never enough.
Ryssdal: Tony D’Souza, his most recent book is called “Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight.” Tony, thanks a lot for coming in.
D’Souza: Thanks a lot for having me.
Ryssdal: You can read the first chapter of “Mule” here.
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