A murky debut that explores New South politics through the intertwined lives of two ambitious North Carolina men--both from flawed but illustrious families. In old-fashioned prose that harks back to--without equaling- -the convoluted sonority of great southern writers of the past, Russell brings his protagonists together at the University of North Carolina in 1988. Roger Albright is descended from a Civil War hero, as well as from generations unable to hold onto money. Very rich, very poised Worth Patterson, who becomes his best friend, seems to have a strange relationship with Roger's mentor, the brilliant Professor Ogden of the Institute for Progressive Studies. The story follows the two young men through WW II and their subsequent rise to power: Roger (who gives up his Jewish Communist girlfriend to win and marry Worth's nouveau riche girlfriend) as a millionaire industrialist; Worth in Washington politics, with Ogden as a sometimes sinister-seeming Çminence grise. Problems surface by the 70's: domestic discord and Roger's suspicion that his troublemaking son--in love with Worth's daughter--is actually Worth's child. On the political front, Worth is challenged by a fundamentalist Christian-broadcasting demagogue who relies on race- baiting and negative advertising and threatens to expose Patterson family skeletons. Tarheelers may enjoy the detailed and wide-ranging--if almost exclusively white--picture of North Carolina: Chapel Hill traditions, tobacco farming, the textile industry, real-estate development, southern yuppies, and New Right fundamentalist politics. But the barrage of facts and contemporary headlines mixed with portentously oblique family scandals will make this serious but bumpy effort hard going for most readers.