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Picaresque first novel that follows 17-year-old Bo around Texas, Mexico, and Indian Territory as he searches for Uncle Charley. Uncle Charley leaves town after shooting a man, thinking he's a murderer, before learning that the victim was barely wounded. BO, picked to track down Charley and tell him he can return, sets off and is passed from hand to hand, usually by people who have seen Charley but are reluctant to discuss his whereabouts. Bo sojourns here and there, first with a farm family, whose daughter he falls in love with, then with the Preacher, who uses his insight into human nature not to spread the Gospel but to relieve gamblers of their money. The Preacher serves as an informal probation officer for a young outlaw, Jeremiah, who begins educating Bo in the ways of the world. When Bo discovers that everyone around the table is cheating at poker, Jeremiah explains that if everybody is cheating, then no one is. Meanwhile, Sam, the local prostitute, relieves Bo of his virginity so he can ""get to the other side,"" and, through hilarious circumstances, he ends up with Flake, a partly scalped Ranger who shows him how to protect himself from Indian arrows--by filling his clothes with pecans. By the time Bo arrives at the Butters, a family living in the middle of ""The Thicket,"" he's hearing the voices of many but is eventually forced to make his own decisions. The reader, however, is left with numerous loose threads and a flat ending. Fast-moving and readable throughout, though the second half loses some of its charm and ingenuity. Homespun wisdom becomes philosophy or mysticism and the characters seem too much like literary devices. If both halves matched, it'd be a winner.

Pub Date: July 31st, 1992
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ. Press--dist. by Texas A&M Univ. Press