Loaded: A Misadventure on the Marijuana Trail
by Robert Sabbag
Little, Brown & Company
After his success with the fairly entertaining cocaine novel Snowblind, Rolling Stone contributor Robert Sabbag returns with the true story of marijuana-smuggler Allen Long. A casual smoker back in the ’70s, Long decides to provide himself with the best pot around and heads off to Columbia to find it, buy it, and sell it. Motivated in large by an incomprehensible amount of easy money as well as “the excitement,” Long’s adventures are thankfully presented less as some sort of holy mission than as a young kid’s attempt at getting laid through the power of money, music, and drugs. It’s an attractive plot, of course, underlined by the naivete and relative innocence of both pot and the ’70s (compared to, say, heroin and the ’90s). However, as Sabbag tells it, Long’s story is a rather boring one — after a few initial running problems, everything moves quite smoothly and nothing much of interest happens until Long’s inevitable fall from grace by the end of the book.
Without ruining anything for anyone, I think it’s fairly safe to give away the book’s closing line (excluding the epilogue): “‘I was just thinking,’ he said, ‘this would make a great movie’.” Intended as a ho-hum moment, I’m sure, it also points to what is both a defining feature and a fundamental problem of the book. Sabbag, it seems, would most of all like to write for Hollywood. There’s little in here of any literary merit per se, and the sole focus is on the forward drive of the narrative. Everything that’s said, it seems, should be directly and immediately transposable to visuals. And when there’s in fact little of interest actually taking place — apart, perhaps, from airplanes almost, but not quite, crashing, over and over again — there’s not much here to get too excited about.
Never a really bad book, it still leaves a lot to be desired. There are hints of brilliant poignancy both in Long’s over-spending and almost desperate life in luxury at the heights of the game, as well as in his eventual rather sad attempts at pulling out of it. However, Sabbag inexplicably steers away from those more human-drama elements, instead focusing on another airplane engine that needs an oil shift or one more bale of marijuana that’s not up to standard. It’s an easy and quick read, if that’s what you’re looking for, but look elsewhere for something profound and truly satisfying.