The Bleaks is the true story of a harrowing nightmare into which writer Paul Illidge’s life is plunged one summer night, when a police drug-squad raids his suburban house, arrests him and his two teenage sons, and whisks them off to jail for growing some marijuana plants in their basement.
Helpless against police harassment and abuse, tangled in a judicial system where the presumption of innocence is thrown out the window, Illidge is not only forbidden contact with his children, but forced by his estranged wife to sell their house before the government seizes it as an organized crime grow-op.
He finds himself embattled on all sides, living out of the trunk of his car, his finances dwindling, a debilitating depression setting in that he can’t seem to shake—other than through desperate measures that, before things went so badly awry, would have been unthinkable.
With circumstances at their bleakest, no choice but to admit defeat and face the consequences of his so-called crimes, he stumbles on an idea that he thinks could save him. The question is, will it be in time?
"This book, though lighthearted in tone, speaks loudly and clearly to the ongoing controversies and consequences regarding the use of marijuana and the right to live one’s life in peace." — Booklist
"It is difficult to write a memoir at any time, more so when your life has been transformed into a Catch-22 tragedy. Black humour may be the only defence to mental collapse, but it is hard to sustain those ironic guffaws and see the bright side as the bills roll in and one’s social world implodes. Paul Illidge does a remarkable job maintaining his perspective. The Bleaks is a cri de coeur in the face of the absurd personal destruction wrought by the century-old, ineffective criminal prohibition against cannabis. It would be truly funny, if it weren’t true." —Ian Mulgrew, columnist, Vancouver Sun, author of Bud Inc.
"I read The Bleaks in almost one sitting. It is a compelling tale that draws the reader along with at times arm-gripping intensity. I especially appreciated the everyday treatment of the topic of mental illness. No big fanfare, kid glove, overly sentimental, politically correct, fearful backing away, or over-the-top emotional stuff. Just a and then there is this aspect to my story approach. To my mind, the world would be a better place if more of us could take that attitude." —Lenore Rowntree, co-editor of Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness
"On his harrowing descent into the contemporary Canadian criminal justice system, Paul Illidge unfolds a cautionary tale that would make Franz Kafka flinch. His sharp-eyed, page-turning memoir reveals how our demonizing marijuana laws have reached a scandalous point of overkill; it’s no small miracle that the author survived his serial, Job-like persecutions with a redeeming blend of bulldog tenacity, irreverent humour and plain old resilience. If written as a novel, The Bleaks would stand accused of being incredible, and thus unpublishable. But it’s all true, and far stranger than fiction." —James FitzGerald, author of What Disturbs Our Blood, winner of the 2010 Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize
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