Philip Malan is a South African professor who finds himself in over his head with a young graduate assistant, Melissa. But sexual and domestic chaos is only complemented, even overshadowed, by what is going on in the country: the ever-tightening noose of the Emergency, with police running amok on the campuses and becoming pure murderous outlaws in the townships. Brink (A Dry White Season, Rumors of Rain) finds the counterpoint a little obvious, however (which it is), and so constructs his book along the lines of a trick: Malan's and Melissa's affair will actually be a hypothetical love story being deconstructed by a tweedy writer who comments his way through it in modish critical accents, mostly French: "At the same time their discovery, rediscovery or invention of the past coincides with my exploration as author, of their historical dimension. Their love is my narrative. (Barthes: 'At the origin of narrative: desire.') In both cases there is a breaking into language: the language of history, the language of story." What makes this weak and increasingly silly posture so frustrating is that when Brink has the hypothetical writer imagining Malan's and Melissa's affair, it is imagined against the backdrop of real-life scenes of neofascist brutality going on in South Africa during the Emergency. The documentary recording of this brutal reality in a novel carries some weight--weight that Brink's arch and trendy metafiction-mess unwittingly undercuts, even mocks. Authorial despair taking more than one easy way out. Dispiriting.