THE WHITE RAINBOW by Alan Harrington

THE WHITE RAINBOW

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Harrington (Paradise I) begins splendidly here, with an engaging clutch of far-flung characters, a sense of mystery and intellectual challenge--but this novel ends as a disappointment, its possibilities largely unexplored while a conventional (yet unexciting) thriller format takes over. A half-Indian Mexican aristocrat calling himself ""Tomás"" has led ""a small horde of displaced campesinos and other malcontents"" on a march across three states to found a remote Utopian village devoted to ""Aztec fundamentalism""--with such success that huge tax revenues are voluntarily paid (in exchange for total privacy). But the primary attraction to handsome, affable yet remote Harvard anthropologist Todd Deming is the possibility that Tomás' sun-worshipping villagers are practicing human sacrifice; and even though his department turns down his research proposal, Todd decides to spend the summer infiltrating the village, once again leaving somewhat unstable wife Karen (a fanatical potter) behind in Cambridge. Todd succeeds, sort of: with hard-bought help from foul expatriate-American guide Zeb Brownlee, he finds the village, is allowed to observe (but is snubbed), is seduced by an Indian woman, is ritually showered with dismembered butterflies--and he manages to send tapes back to old colleague Ben Sark at Harvard. But then, after a quasi-orgy with leader Tomás and two women, Todd's role shifts from observer to prisoner (""captive god""): he's fed hallucinatory mushrooms and apparently primed to be a human sacrifice. So, when Todd fails to return in the fall, Karen--who's been dabbling in adultery with both an undergraduate and old, sick Ben--starts pressuring the authorities to rescue Todd . . . especially since another young anthropologist disappeared there even before Todd arrived. And, getting no action from the government (touchy US-Mexico relations these days), Karen determines to hire her own rescue team to fly in and save Todd before he's killed by the mad, terminally ill Tomás (who believes he'll be reborn in the human-sacrifice ritual). The finale, then, is action/rescue stuff, but the novel is far too long and leisurely to work up much suspense. Nor does the parallel identity-crisis--Todd realizes his emotional selfishness, Karen takes some responsibility--come through persuasively. And the book's many other threads (the chunks of anthropology, the embassy-politics satire, the academia infighting) become merely obtrusive. Oddly unfocused and thrustless work, then, but Harrington's intelligence, humor, and page-by-page narrative strength make this readable most of the way through--and occasionally very intriguing.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown