After Martin's last novel, Final Harbor (1984), a shipwreck all around, he has returned wisely to the Midwest, a setting his better work finds most congenial (Tethered, The Crying Heart Tattoo); and again he pulls out of operatically charged, semi-mythical situations an identifiable, more-than-slightly perverse lyricism. Johnny Reace arrives in the Illinois river town of Beaker's Bride trailing no history whatsoever, all enigma. He's taken in by Bonner Relee, a huge man resembling Lincoln, a rich widower who shares his never-quite-finished mansion with his widowed daughter-in-law Alva and her son Jess. Alva and Bonner's sexual understanding and occasional succor are disrupted by charismatic Johnny: Alva offers to do anything for him, and the more he puts her off, the more her flame grows. Martin eschews a predictable confrontation, tossing in some ancillary characters to change the scent--but plot isn't the point. Rhapsody is. There is strong eroticism here, but only when Martin can restrain himself from shaping every paragraph into an epigram or a dithyramb: ""Johnny appreciated now why she had painted her lips so red, and he kept his attention on that full red oval oral cavity of hers, singing to himself its praises, that commencement of the alimentary canal, suckler of milk, harborer of bacteria's fleets, lung sucker, warm and wet whisperer of lovers' lies. . ."" Overwriting like this, and over-ripe chiaroscuro just about everywhere, work against Martin's purposes rather than for them. A talented writer seeming a bit too mesmerized by his own bardic tendencies.