I love a humourous novel – although David Sedaris is my favourite writer, I seek a laugh in both my fiction and non-fiction reading whenever possible. When I came across the 2018 winner of The Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in a Second Story Press catalogue, I requested it right away. Gone to Pot by Jennifer Craig is quirky story about an aging woman who finds herself struggling to make money, so she turns to growing marijuana for a steady cash flow. My international readers should take note: pot was legalized across Canada in 2018, but this book was released before that new law came into place, so the plot is based on the idea that the protagonist is participating in an illegal act. This is critical to the humour in the book, so keep that in mind if you pick it up.
Jess lives in Nelson, British Columbia, a hippie town that hosts a wild music festival each year and a fairly young population, so weed is commonly grown and consumed there. She’s older and divorced. I don’t recall her exact age ever being mentioned, but based on her activities and complaints, I would guess she’s in her early or late sixties. The diner where she worked as a waitress burns down, and she’s without a job. Finding it nearly impossible to gain employment competing with a younger task force, a waitressing friend suggests Jess consider growing pot in her basement because she owns her own house and can easily hide it. She’s connected with a young guy in the town who helps people build the growing operations in their homes, and with the advice of these new friends and some internet searches, Jess begins growing weed for sale. She is terrified of getting caught, but having very little money, even resorting to using the food bank a few times, she feels she has no other choice. She has one grown son who makes a good income and offers to take her in in exchange for her free babysitting services, but Jess is an independent woman and hates the idea of giving up her own home. Plus, she’s got a fantastic green thumb, which is more than the kids who hooked her up in the first place can say.
I was a tad disappointed in the humour of this book, because i typically appreciate a good zinger in dialogue, or a character who has hilarious internal dialogue (like this book). Instead, the humour of this novel is found in the situation itself (a granny growing weed!) and the quirky old gals Jess hangs around with, called The Company of Crones. Her monthly meetings with them are surprisingly fun, even though they do lament about their old age, their medical issues, and life changes that would generally be considered depressing if they weren’t all so optimistic and lighthearted in disposition.
Despite the lack of LOLs I got from this novel, I did really enjoy its depiction of life at this age, and the struggles a single woman in particular will have if she’s got little money, but lots of life left to live. Jess is a generous woman, and part of the problem she has with visiting the food bank is a level of guilt that she isn’t able to contribute to it anymore. She’s also ashamed that she has little to bring to her son’s house to contribute to a meal, so she spends time baking with the dry goods from the food bank to appear as though she isn’t strapped for cash. Jess worries about the young woman she befriends through her new gardening endeavour, and tries to act as a sympathetic sounding board for her other friends’ troubles as much as possible. And she adores her grandchildren, looking forward to playing with them and doing fun things their parents don’t approve of. Also important to note is there is no love interest for Jess, and no wishful thinking there was either. She’s happy being alone, which is a refreshing (and I suspect realistic) take on life at this age that we don’t often hear about.
I could have done without a bit less detail on the mechanics of growing pot, the descriptions of preparing Jess’s home for this crop is clearly well-researched and simple to understand, but it didn’t do much to move the plot forward. Instead, I would have liked to dive deeper into the mysteries behind Jess’s son and his complicated marriage, but this book would have likely lost of some its light-heartedness if it got too into the weeds of these relationships. Some threads remain loose by the end of the story, but Jess’s situation improves, and the extent of her green thumb reaches an impressive crescendo by the end (if you read the book, you will chuckle at my choice of words here). It’s a unique premise and storyline that you don’t see often, so I appreciate the bravery of Craig to approach these complicated topics in such a playful way.