This slim, somber debut, cast as the memoir of an American woman in mad pursuit of proficiency in flamenco music, is really a study in the higher slumming. Stiff and humorless, it captures little of the Gypsy sensibility it so seriously pretends to celebrate. In fact, the Gypsy characters here all seem alike: rotten teeth, bad clothes, and speaking an odd blend of Hemingway Spanglish. Loren, the narrator, begins her studies abroad as an affluent, 16-year-old Jewish girl who takes her chances in primitive Andalusia. There, she comes within the ``orbit'' of the legendary Diego and his nephews, who congregate at Bar Pepe in Mor¢n, where they trade tall tales, act superstitious, and, amazingly, allow ``La Gorda'' (so named for her ample bosom) to study. From this point on, time and place become an impressionistic blur: Ross intercuts a blunted story of Loren's brother, a high- strung oddball on the West Coast who becomes a Hollywood hotshot, and then dies mysteriously from a nitrous oxide overdoes. Meanwhile, Loren continues her obsession with flamenco Stateside, meeting other enthusiasts, including a dying young man who managed to record surreptitiously some of the greatest performers. On one of her return visits, Loren is disappointed to find TV at the Bar Pepe, and she feels condescension for the other non-Gypsy hangers- on, especially the women who are willing to accept their ``female'' roles as dancers rather than guitarists. So concerned is Loren with learning the ``deep songs'' of flamenco—the melodies of loneliness—that she (and the novel) seem immune to its sexual content, a surprising neglect given the thick overlay of psychobabble imposed on this self-dramatized story. A tale as didactic as this might have been better as nonfiction. As it is: a skittish debut that mistakes intensity and indirection for artistry.
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