Bulging with virile prose, this good-hearted novel grabs you by the collar, roughs you up a bit, then buys you a drink afterwards. At times much too reminiscent of Kerouac, Kesey and McGuane, Burke (author of last year's The Convict, a collection of stories) summons up a surprisingly original voice in his butt-kicking, beer-swilling narrator--a self-described "hillbilly guitar picker" who just wants to "take it easy and cool and slide with it." Unfortunately, Iry Paret's past won't allow him such a laidback life. Ever since he knifed a guy in a barroom brawl, and served time for manslaughter on a work gang in his native Louisiana, Iry's found trouble everywhere he goes. In search of a "safe dawn," he heads for Montana to begin work on a ranch owned by the family of a jailhouse pal. Himself recently sprung, Buddy Riordan seems destined to be a two-time loser, what with the local sheriff hoping to see him and Iry back behind bars. Days after his arrival, Iry realizes he's stepped into someone else's trouble. Riordan's stubborn and stoic old man has won a temporary injunction against a polluting mill, the same mill that employs four hundred locals. Thus be. gins a series of beatings and burnings which Iry refuses to let go unrevenged; he's coaxed on by Riordan's brother-in-law, a drunken academic who glorifies crime in the name of revolution. While Buddy leads a life of "hangovers, whorehouses, and beer-glass brawls," Iry prefers to croon "gooder than grits" in perfect imitation of Hank Williams, though both of them can't shake "the dirty knowledge of the criminal world." Iry survives the violent denouement of the novel, avoids jail, and settles back to enjoy what Burke evokes so well--the natural beauty of Montana. Lots of true grit and a little tenderness combine to make this an absorbing tale of modern life on the range.