In THE BUDS ARE CALLING, wealthy widow Lydia Rosemore sets a marijuana business in motion in part to placate her one-time love Caldwell Porter, a man with lots of ambition and many ideas, but no capital. The law firm left in place by Lydia’s late husband are initially dubious, but soon discover that with the recent legalization movement in their state there is money to be made, and so Caldwell’s dream is made reality. The endeavor attracts a wide range of people. There’s Ernie, an easy-going horticultural enthusiast and amateur gourmet; Petra, an alcoholic botanist struggling with professional and personal malaise; Luther, a cutthroat lawyer who finds himself sharing more than contracts with Lydia. As the company, named CannRose-Medi, grows to match Caldwell’s ambition, a large cast of characters are added to the payroll. However, Caldwell’s ambition quickly outstrips his ability. Erratic and mercurial, Caldwell intends CannRose to be a cutting-edge, world-class company. As a result, he meddles with everything, insisting on unnecessary upgrades and pushing design over function at almost every turn. CannRose becomes an increasingly chaotic place to work as a result, bringing it into conflict with state inspectors and its own employees.
Author B. Coyne Davies is obviously having fun with the large cast of characters, but it’s also a drawback—the story has no focal point. We meet Ernie in the first chapter and it seems like he’ll be our main character, but he vanishes from the story for long periods of time and has very little impact on events. In fact, there simply is no main character. People float around the story, often offering up Wikipedia-style exposition dumps explaining some aspect of growing the plants or the history of racist law enforcement in relation to marijuana, but there’s no one conflict or goal that defines the story. That’s an overall problem for the book, in fact—there are no stakes. No one has much to lose. Lydia will be wealthy whether CannRose succeeds or not, and all the employees seem to regard the business as a fun diversion, but no one seems terribly worried about its success or failure. Caldwell is unreliable and self-defeating, but he never actually becomes villainous or threatening before exiting the story stage left. A new investor arrives later in the narrative who seems sketchy—but his power play is muted and seems to be beneficial to the business as a whole.
Characters have their own personal dramas, but none of them are really resolved, and none do anything to enhance the story or advance the plot—probably because there really isn’t a plot. The business is launched, people perform there duties, mistakes are made and things happen, but since there are no stakes and no defined conflict, it’s just a series of anecdotes about a group of people working at a startup. Luckily, those anecdotes are enjoyable, and the characters are well-drawn. THE BUDS ARE CALLING is a pleasant reading experience—although a Greek Chorus of college-aged potheads who speak only a cringe-worthy dialect that refers to literally everything as “lit” and “fire” can be a bit grating after a while—and offers a glimpse into an industry that’s still in a fury of formation. A little more intentional fiction added to this might have resulted in an entertaining story of people with big dreams of becoming Big Pot going up against a real antagonist. As it is, this is an interesting exploration of a specific time and place and nothing more.
THE BUDS ARE CALLING is a sharply-observed story of an ambitious marijuana startup as the plant is increasingly legalized and accepted, but despite its well-drawn characters, its lack of a focal point leaves it feeling aimless.
~Jeff Somers for IndieReader