KIM WOZENCRAFT DIDN'T look far for the inspiration behind her latest novel. What would her family's life be like, she asked herself, if a federal prison sentence hadn't brought an abrupt end to her husband's career as a marijuana smuggler? Wozencraft, who first earned literary headlines for her semiautobiographical novel Rush, the account of an undercover narcotics agent who develops a drug habit, is married to writer-producer Richard Stratton (Slam), a former marijuana smuggler. When the couple met in 1991, both had done time in federal prisons and both were busy writing books and screenplays inspired by their experiences.
The Catch centers on Annie Trowbridge, who lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children. They own an old house with a big garden, a loyal terrier, and a woodstove. They operate an antique store which, although profitable, is most valuable as a front for Kurt Trowbridge's thriving smuggling business. Eventually, though, their world becomes increasingly domestic, leading Annie to hound Kurt to stop flying pot and hash around the globe.
Swearing it will be his last trip, Kurt is enticed into flying one more run. Naturally, things go awry. The plane he's to unload crashes, setting in motion a chain of events that culminates in Kurt's arrest by a DEA agent who's been trailing him for years. The rest of the novel is a slow, painful chronicle of all that follows: the protracted wait for Kurt's indictment and the agonizing process of trying to decide whether to start over as fugitives.
Just as the undercover cops in Wozencraft's first novel, Rush, were hard to separate from their quarry, the family at the center of The Catch is not just stock characters thrown into a moral parable. In Wozencraft's scheme, the war on drugs is a dubious campaign, and none of the combatants has any ownership on righteousness. When Kurt meets Annie, for example, he helps her kick a vicious and damaging cocaine habit. Yet several years later, when Annie starts to fear the possible consequences of Kurt's career choices, he argues to her that marijuana shouldn't be illegal. Annie counters that the morality of the trade isn't her concern: The family could support itself comfortably from the antique store, she adds, and then she wouldn't be left home worrying whether Kurt will return from each flight.
The novel's cataclysmic conclusion is the result of another such moral quandary: Unless he can make a deal or persuade Annie to join him on the lam, Kurt faces a life sentence in federal prison. Ultimately, in an emotional illustration of everything that's wrong with the war on drugs, none of The Catch's finely crafted characters wins.