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Poet John Balaban's first novel is set in the Thai-Burmese Golden Triangle in 1974, but it's built like any good Western: good guys, bad guys, problem, mayhem, resolution. Lacey, the Lone Ranger of the tale, doesn't ride off into the sunset but sails into the sunrise: ""He stuffed and closed his eyes and felt the sun and the bounce of the waves against the bow."" We begin with Prescott and Lacey, old Vietnam buddies, in London, Prescott incurably ill with cancer. Prescott splits for India, hoping for a miraculous cure, drawing along junkie Fay and wealthy Paul Roberts IV. The cure never happens; Prescott is cremated in India; and Fay and Roberts plunge eastward, only to be busted at the Thai border for hash smuggling. While Fay and Roberts suffer their prison life, usually stoned and usually with Fay's new lover, the Loatian whore Mai, Lacey step by step moves toward the rescue. Will the two sides meet? There's a terrific battle--blood and gore all over--our prisoners are spirited away--but pursued--and wouldn't make it if the forces of supergood didn't intervene. The terrific battle goes along with a terrific orgy, both of which contrast with the author's idyllic portrayal of the opium growers in their patient wisdom and need for a cash crop and with his idealized macho figure of the wealthy Lacey, who finds American life ""boring,"" loves poetry, his wife (""Louise awoke and reached down between her legs for Lacey's dick""), his dog, and grouse shooting. Even the violence--a monkey having its brains eaten out alive--is too crude to be credible; the characters are petty or wooden; so what remains is the scenery, as in most Westerns.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1985
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich