A Mexican-American teenager comes to terms with his melting- pot heritage--in a labored and predictable picaresque tale from the author of The Dark Side of the Dream (1995). Having turned 18 and graduated from high school in 1955, Valent°n Cooper is eager to break out of Big Bend, the West Texas whistle stop where he grew up. A film buff who hopes to make some kind of a living in Hollywood, he feels hemmed in by his loving but demanding mother Guadalupe (who owns a roadside cafe frequented by local farmers and long-haul truckers) and a pregnant Anglo girlfriend named Bonnie Gortner. Before leaving town, Val learns that the Anglo father he had been told died a hero's death before his birth is not only alive and well but an itinerant gambler who works the western US. Using information reluctantly furnished by a local lawyer, the vaguely aggrieved man-child catches up with his errant parent in El Paso. Frank Cooper proves a charming if stubbornly independent individual willing to accord his long-lost son no more than partner status. Since Frank hopes to amass the bankroll that he needs to qualify for a potentially lucrative poker game in Reno, the two tour the Sunbelt's gaming outposts. At length, there's enough money to buy Frank a seat at the card table and (unsurprisingly) give him a chance to betray his offspring's trust. At the close, Val (wise enough to appreciate that he has more than broken even on his high-stakes wager of emotion and time) spurns his deadbeat dad's appeal to join forces with him and hops a bus for Big Bend, though he'll leave again--this time for California. Self-indulgent period fiction that does little to evoke the postWW II/Korean Conflict era, let alone prove that ``the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.''