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Tantalizingly, Wilson (Crazy February, A Green Tree And A Dry Tree) steps to the edge of what promises to be an unusually satisfying historical novel--only to pull back from it, settling instead for a patchy, impressionistic, lyric mood-piece. Willie Hickler, a New Haven photographer lately working for Edward Curtis (the great photographer of American Indians), is summoned down to Peru by Hiram Bingham, leader of the 1911 Yale/National Geographic Society expedition. They're going, soon enough, to stumble gloriously upon Machu Picchu--but before that happens Willie is going to find himself love-smitten with a Peruvian man his own age, Ernesto Mena, who works for the expedition. Ernesto is not himself homosexual, but neither is he a prig; he accommodates to Willie's passionate (but also dignified) love with a respectful demurrer. So Willie is left mostly to fantasize about a relationship between a 1533 Spanish conquistador and an Inca--a liaison to mirror and be a historical precedent for the Willie/Ernesto duo. And thus, with lockstep paralleling, it mostly goes--until the breathtaking discovery of the high perfect city itself, Machu Picchu (a scene played down, disappointingly, to near-invisiblity). Wilson writes well about photography; he writes with appealing tact about Willie's very convincing love and atmospherically about the expedition. But because nothing is ever quite pressed, all floats side-by-side in a sort of alkaline calm: impressive in a statuesque way, but rather too damp and static for fully satisfying fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf