A failed medicine man and an ex-Marine abandoning his family try to break every rule on a cross-country road trip during which heyoka—the Indian word for being contrary, irresponsibly antisocial, or going plain crazy—leads to mystical revelations, forgiveness and redemption.
Since leaving the States for Australia, Dann has kept one foot firmly within the SF genre as an editor (Dreaming Down Under, 2001, etc.) while penning darkly imaginative historicals (The Silent, 1998, etc.). First published a year ago in Australia under the title Bad Medicine, his latest starts slowly as bitter, toothless 66-year-old apartment superintendent Charlie Sarris finds that his secret drinking spot—a furnished room near a water heater—has been rented to one John Stone, a similarly aged, rootless Indian medicine man who likes strong drink and cigars. The landlord hires Stone to help Sarris clean up an apartment that’s been trashed by a welfare mother. Intrigued by Stone’s peaceful mysticism and barely repressed subversive streak, Sarris joins him in a trek to a sweat lodge in the hills around Binghamton, New York, where a rival medicine man, Joe Whiteshirt (whose wife, Janet, Stone had slept with a long time ago), causes, or fails to prevent, Stone from suffering painful burns. Sarris comes home to find that his teenaged daughter Stephanie is pregnant and goes out on a bender. Soon he and Stone are heading south, to Florida, for a showdown with Whiteshirt. Along the way, Stone’s uncertain mysticism and Sarris’s reckless need to raise hell converge in a series of harrowing misadventures that seem to make everything worse—until each confronts the unresolved conflicts in his past.
Though heavy with New Age pop psychology, Dann makes a story soar as he finds common ground between the complicated animism of Indian spirituality and the gritty, manic desperation of angry old men out to avenge themselves on their youth.