A tale of two losers: a small-town mayor who sees his long-shot race for the state assembly as the first step in his becoming the fifth face on Mount Rushmore, and a returning exile from the town who hopes to avenge his mother's death years ago by assassinating the candidate. The sparse landscape of Jericho, North Dakota, offers little to fight over--a joke that both Mayor George Robinson, neglecting his family for his hopeless candidacy, and bookkeeper Alamen West, determined to shoot somebody important, some big-deal public figure, are too obsessed to pick up. But first-novelist Stone doesn't do much with this irony either, apart from announcing it. His sad supporting cast--Robinson's embittered wife Rainey, an old school friend of West's; West's halfhearted sidekick, a grocer's assistant named Joe; and Alpha Davis, the ancient librarian Robinson demands purchase a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince--seem as hemmed in as his principals by small-town defeatism: you get the idea that although it would serve Robinson right to get shot, it would serve his neighbors right to have him survive to get elected as their representative. And although it's clear from the beginning that West and Joe will fumble their simple- minded assassination plan, the climactic twist and its ironic epilogue aren't quite enough to justify all the High Plains anomie that sets them up. Stone's people and their story are intense and pathetic rather than memorable. He succeeds, though, in making North Dakota sound even bleaker than the Bronx.