Ballard's newest nightmare fantasy of contemporary society finds hero Robert Maitland marooned on a seemingly deserted traffic island just outside London watching the unconcerned motorists stream by. This modern-day Crusoe encounters two inhabitants in his explorations -- a Sadie Thompson-ish neurotic runaway and a mentally defective ex-circus acrobat with the "natural dignity of a large, simple animal" -- whom he manipulates brutally in order to survive. He tells himself, "I am the island" and in case you missed that, the little tart reminds him later, "You were on an island long before you crashed here." Escape, then, becomes problematical: from where? to what? and on what terms? The "conspiracy of the grotesque" that traps him is more than Maitland's trial -- it's his only destiny, and perhaps no more than technological man deserves. Ballard handles this kind of reductive moral fable with incomparable finesse, investing the narrative with savage horror that eats away at banal appearance and reveals the skeleton beneath the skin.