Accomplished short-story writer Shacochis (Easy in the Islands, The Next New World) weighs in with an ambitious first novel that (like Susan Sontag's recent tome) mixes sexual intrigue, political revolution, and volcanoes. Like Sontag, Shacochis seems determined to convince readers of his seriousness, though he makes fewer concessions to simple readability. Set on a small island in the Lesser Antilles, this sprawling fiction includes extended dialogue in a Caribbean patois, lots of unexplained regional jargon, and not a little religious mumbo-jumbo thrown in for its lurid iconography. At the center of this ``world brimmed with queer opportunities'' is Mitchell Wilson, a 26-year-old economist working as a consultant to the Ministry of Agriculture on the island of St. Catherine. The naive American quickly discovers the surreal nature of island life--the inscrutable natives with their old folk ways; the educated class with its complicated political manipulations; his fellow expats, all part of the problem, not the solution. No character here appears without a story: Mitchell's buddy Isaac, a hard-working local ``bwoy,'' has disappeared for political reasons involving his dead father; Cassius Collymore, a poor and abused fisherman's son, grows up to be a vicious member of the secret police; and Kingsley, a double-talking conservative member of the government coalition, likes to play games with Mitchell's head. Among the various white people who find themselves in this unforgiving locale are: Sally, a good-hearted special-ed teacher from Kansas whose unspeakable naivetÇ leads to her brutal murder; Adrian, a New York yuppie whose pampered life is changed by what she witnesses; and Johanna, Mitchell's ex-lover who suddenly appears after a five-year absence that's included a bad marriage and drug-dealing. Overwritten and--worst of all--full of trite observations. Shacochis's lumpy novel lacks the very qualities that make his stories so remarkable: grace and economy.