Rabasa (the award-winning Glass Houses, stories, not reviewed) offers a colorful tale of the contemporary US-Mexican border with more than a hint of Conrad. Like Conrad's Almayer's Folly, Rabasa's first novel begins (after a framing device) with a vision of a raging river, torrents running out of control. And like Folly, it tells the story of a young man whose intrusion into a small, self-contained world brings down forces of havoc as powerful as those of the river. Simon Tucker is an American teenager who makes a little money by carrying marijuana across the Rio Grande to sell in his high school. Battered by floodtide, however, and by an unknown assailant, he turns up more dead than alive on an island in the middle of the river. Lucio Seguila is the aging master of that island, the half-humorously self-proclaimed Free Republic of Seguilandia. The other people of the ``republic'' are his three daughters, his retarded grandson, and his corrupt, stupid son-in-law. Naturally, Tucker's appearance disrupts life in this little place where the Seguila family survives by some mildly illegal activities and by scavenging. The tragic outcome of it all is diminished not only by being entirely predictable, but by Rabasa's telling the story in a complex series of flashbacks and memories that begins with Simon coming out of prison after seven years for a crime not revealed until the end. Largely, though, the novel succeeds through Rabasa's sure hand with vivid description and setting, and through his deep regard for Lucio, a powerful and likable character in a book otherwise tending to lack psychological depth. Rabasa has an undeniable talent, although mastery of structure doesn't yet seem to be part of it. A not unengaging debut novel. Rabasa bears watching.