BAD GUYS by Elizabeth Arthur


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When the two swift and steady narratives in this heartfelt novel of the Pacific Northwest come together, all hell breaks loose. The tragicomical result manages to separate the good guys from the bad, and to instill a well-earned and welcome moral--that cooperation and kindness matter more than mere survival. Everything converges on an island in the Alaskan bay, home to the Chenega Youth Training Center, an experimental work-camp for juvenile delinquents. Spike Jones, a.k.a. Micah Jones, fresh from the pen in British Columbia, sets out for the remote island where he misspent part of his youth and where he hopes to settle an old score. Along the way, this compulsive liar is joined by a lovably nutty fat man and his anorexic daughter, the former following an inner voice and the latter responding to Spike's lunatic energy, which she mistakes for romantic electricity. On the island, a younger generation of miscreants plan their escape--a plot that takes advantage of their trusting counselors, especially the camp's embattled director, a young woman who would be happy to discover one good egg among the dozen troublemakers in her charge. ""Grab-it-and-run man"" Spike lays siege to the island--only to discover his enemy long gone--on the same day as the equally ill-fated Big Escape. The violent denouement, in which Spike's skinny accomplice proves to be a ""guerrilla queen"" of superior competence, provides the bungling escapees with a grim example of a future devoted to crime. And in the anarchic course of things, one camper in particular displays a superhuman calm and a surprising sense of how ""to live right."" Eschewing the sociological at all turns, Arthur (Island Sojourn, 1980; Beyond the Mountain, 1983) combines modest ambition and quiet intelligence in this gently uplifting novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1986
Publisher: Knopf