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McCall is a talented writer, and there's evidence of that (primarily comic) throughout this long new novel; but, after the offbeat distinctiveness of both Jack the Bear and Beecher, this tale of a glamorously messed-up Southern California family is mostly disappointing--especially when it seems to be emulating the worst aspects of such other family chroniclers as John Irving and Joyce Carol Oates. McCall's folksy-coarse, occasionally strained narrator here is 37-year-old, divorced Laguna cop Oliver ""Triphammer"" Bodley, a family-less man who suddenly finds himself entangled (as observer, confidant, friend) with the most famous family in the neighborhood--the Hookers. Patriarch J. O. Hooker is a legendary architect, married for 50 years to the gracious Leela. Their son Rex (who went to high-school with Bodley) is the celebrated writer/star of a daytime-TV soap. But Rex is cracking up, it seems: after a suicide try, his estranged wife Joslin tries to get him committed (which is how Bodley re-enters the Hooker scene). So things get progressively more nightmarish after J. O. dies in a fire (set by an old Hooker-family nemesis) that destroys the famed Hooker manse--Summer Snow. Leela is dying of a brain tumor; Rex and Joslin fight over their young son David (a precocious, ""gallant"" lad whom many readers will find altogether too cute-smart-brave); the arsonist/villain returns for more mayhem. And, meanwhile, alienated narrator Bodley finds himself more and more involved--lusting after Rex's wife and mistress, raging when he finds that Rex uses everyone's personal lives as material for the soap, doting (with increasing stickiness) on little David. . . and apparently deciding to fill the Family shoes when Rex mercy-kills the comatose Leela and disappears. Unfortunately, this variation on the Woes/Joys-of-Family theme is verbosely belabored here--as tough Bodley is ostentatiously tenderized. Overdone, too, are Bodley's digressions into the horrors of daily police work, Rex's freak-outs, and some minutely detailed (yet oddly unconvincing) sequences at the soap opera's TV studio. And though much of the dialogue is shrewdly, bitterly funny (as is some of Bodley's monologue), the final effect is crude and drawn-out--as McCall, who seems better suited to tightly designed fiction, tries to expand an essentially small and familiar tale into a grand-scale American Gothic.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1982
Publisher: Congdon & Weed--dist. by St. Martin's