YELLOWFISH by John Keeble
Kirkus Star


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Toward the middle of this book, which is equal parts chase novel and meditation on cultural geography, a tense and drastic concentration builds up that's quite impressive. ""Yellowfish""--illegal Chinese immigrants--are what Wesley Erks, a free-lance machinist with the abiding Western traits of ""lawlessness, monomania, and independence,"" runs across the border from Vancouver to San Francisco. His latest run--the substance of this second novel by the author of Crab Canon--will bring four men over: three Hong Kong boys, one of whom will die en route from an earlier stabbing (the presence of his body in the back of the station-wagon throughout the trip is like a ghost of plague, very dreadful); and the son of a rich Chinese casino owner who, lately living in Red China, has come back to square deadly debts with the Triad, a secret Chinese society. From the very beginning, Erks and his yellowfish are followed--by Triad men (alerted by a doublecross) and by slightly laggardly bodyguards for Ginarn Taam, the casino owner's son. Death-stink in back, dramatic land in front, Erks drives through the Northwest always a little off-balance, in ""a web without geometry, a tangle of routes"" that replicate the web of history itself. And there are scenes that are brilliantly cross-hatched: a quick eating-stop at a rural restaurant owned by Chinese but patronized by whites, the cultural angles made as bright and fearsome as knives. True, Keeble's armature of theory--geographical/political/geological, owing much to the ideas of Charles Olson and Edward Dorn--can sometimes be stiffnecked, yanking a crinkly wire through the story's otherwise basically drumming weave. But this remarkable novel (less sentimental than Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers but somewhat resembling it) is hard, edgy, and alert, with a palpable sense of drama obtained not only from pursuing cars and pointed guns but also from forces inexpertly grasped, connections left unmade. Its dramatic heart is very strong, with beats that are often headlong and fascinating.

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row