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The third and weakest long book in Nichols' Chamisaville, New Mexico trilogy (The Milagro Beanfield War, The Magic Journey)--and a whopping case of more-is-less. The more spiritedly antic Nicholas has become over the space of these novels, the hollower they've grown: this one is simply a big maraca. Joe Miniver is the ""hero"": an ad-man-turned-counterculture-garbage-collector, he's asthmatic, sensitive, married with two children, finally ready to buy a piece of land from an old Mexican--a purchase which he intends to finance with a dip into the world of large-scale cocaine trafficking. But by the time Joe takes custody of the coke, the whole town knows about it. This is partially due to his one-night (and first ever) marital indiscretion with Nancy Ryan--who tends to be distressingly public about her doings; she's also a devotee of the Hanuman Foundation--a monkey-worship cult--which is having its big blowout in Chamisaville in upcoming days. Joe's hanky-panky and drug-deal thus become public information in no time; within the space of a week, he spirals down into promiscuity, death-threats from other drug dealers, and a sickening self-image as bottom-scraper of the underside of the American dream: ""How bad (how sad) must be the national emotional state that endowed its citizens with such a hair-trigger on the pistol-shaped frame of their dependencies?"" Self-pity is Joe's most regular response to the mess he's gotten himself into, with an ideological umbrella overhead just in case (""The ozone was about to perish. The earth itself was becoming leached out, poisoned, useless. . . . Millions of soldiers, laundered greenbacks, corrupt puppets. . . . Like a sick, vengeful moon, the Ku Klux Klan was rising. . .""). There are moments here--dreadful escalations of family arguments into family brawls--which are effective, but thee are far too few of them. And overall this reads like overblown would-be Garp, a one-situation novel which is inflated with whining, cuteness, and pretensions to social message; one can only hope that talented writer Nichols will now move on to less presumptuous, more flattering projects.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1981
ISBN: 0805063404
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston