If Joseph Conrad and H.G. Wells had cowritten scripts for Gilligan's and Fantasy Island[s], they probably would have come up with something about as bad as this overinflated comic melodrama by the popular author of Crazy in Alabama (1993), etc. The story begins in 1972 when good-old-boy folk-rock superstar Ben ""Superman"" Willis is overtaken by a violent thunderstorm while flying his private plane and crashes it on a remote tropical island. He's hauled out of the wreckage badly injured, and nursed back to health by a group of odd people who seem to have fled their past lives, including Daisy, a supernaturally luscious blond who looks exactly like . . . . Yes, Virginia, this is indeed Shangri-la (or Childress's version of it), and numbered among the islanders are exact likenesses of ""Anastasia. D.B. Cooper. Michael Rockefeller . . . Amelia Earhart . . . Marilyn Monroe . . . Jimmy Hoffa,"" as well as a pill-dispensing ""doctor"" who claims they're all his psychiatric patients and, lurking in the background, a string-pulling ""Magician"" who turns out to be exactly the famous disappeared person you expect him to be. ""Superman"" recovers--most visibly in a wild beachside sex scene with the compliant Daisy--and, appalled by evidence that the pristine ""Isla del Mago"" will fall victim to developers, undertakes a preemptive guerrilla campaign that climaxes with the grand opening of the Jungle Inn, a celebrity bash featuring Jerry Vale and Helen Reddy (whose ""I Am Woman"" is the object of the book's best gag). Childress nods in the direction of involving Ben's ""widow"" Alexa (the former Miss Southwest Louisiana) and son Ben Jr. in the narrative (the latter's journey to find his missing father occupies a sizable fraction of the text), and both show up in time for the feel-good ending. But their presences are nominal, in a novel that's very indifferently structured and nowhere near as engaging as its author seems to think. This one never takes off. Childless isn't doing much more than taxiing, in what is pretty clearly his weakest book yet.