A compelling, if talky, tale of youthful sexual obsession, spoiled somewhat by extraneous sermonizing toward the end. Miller, the author of Days of Wine and Roses, as well as three previous novels (The Skook, 1984, etc.), sets his latest in Houston. The year is 1937, and Dub can't concentrate on much beyond the mysteries of sex. The Rice University freshman lives at home; his father is emotionally distant, while his mother struggles to keep the family intact. Then Dub meets 16-year-old Joy. She's not what the locals call a ``nice girl.'' Indeed, as Dub discovers during their first encounter, she's not only as interested in sex as he is but she's willing to do anything he could imagine—and a whole lot more. Dub finds out that Joy's father has been dead for a few years, that she hates her mother, and that she's been the victim of sexual abuse, all of which he believes has made her ``crazy.'' Yet he can't pull away, in part because of the sex but also because Dub has trouble acting decisively; when in doubt, he falls into the pose of the laconic gunslinger and allows himself to be pushed along by the desires of others—as, for instance, when he becomes involved in the sleazy world of amateur boxing. Throughout here, Dub is bothered by the many lies he finds himself telling his mother, whose deeply held religious views he doesn't fully accept but does respect. Readers, meanwhile, will be drawn into Dub's world but may find themselves wishing the characters wouldn't tell everything about their lives—certainly not in page-long expositions. An additional problem is the political message tacked on to the finale, which falls with a resounding thud. Nonetheless, often exuberant and frequently moving. A gritty, honest look at the consequences of letting hormones run the whole show.
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