This debut shows plenty of ambition and promise but could use a streamlining of subplots.
The author casts his native Las Vegas as a microcosm not only for America, but for the human condition as well. At the hub is the Ewing family, Lincoln and Lorraine and their 12-year-old son, Newell, who all appear conventionally (if a little complacently) happy until Newell falls through the city’s cracks. Though the central chronology documents the night of Newell’s disappearance, flashbacks (and flashes forward) show that the boy wasn’t that happy after all. If he were, he’d be the only one in this novel who is. There are many spokes to the plot, most of them tangential. There is the stripper and her boyfriend (verging on pimp), who urges her to get breast implants and coaxes her toward a porn shoot. There is a geeky graphic artist, with the improbable jazz-homage name of Bing Beiderbixxe, who has a scheme that involves both 3-D tattoos and the stripper. There is the dead-end high-school kid who receives encouragement from Bing and who befriends Newell. There is a hallucinatory episode among a homeless pack including a nameless girl with a shaved head, a pregnant girl, a dog and a vampirish hustler. Many of these people converge on a late-night punk-rock bacchanal in the desert, which serves as a sort of climax without bringing the plot full circle. And there are Lincoln and Lorraine, who come to suspect that their son was the only thing holding their marriage together. The tone varies from titillating close-ups of the adult-entertainment industry to background information on runaways that sounds like a public-service announcement. (It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?) On some level, everyone is a predator, and any beauty that these children once had has been either taken from them or bartered.
Remember Ordinary People? This could have been titled Pathetic People.