A prominent critic of Chicano literature tries his hand at a novel--a conventional romance that tarts itself up as a postmodern study in obsession and perspective. Bruce-Novoa's debut has the makings of a modest, sociologically interesting coming-of-age narrative: the story of an assimilated Mexican-American boy in Los Angeles during the '50s and '60s. Instead, the author overreaches and turns his protagonist's first love into a goddess of mythic proportions. She's the ""American Dream,"" the blond ideal, a madonna too good to defile. Later, when Paul Valencia becomes Paul Valence, a successful screenwriter, he even claims to have inspired George Lucas's unattainable blond driving a convertible in American Graffiti. And that's just a small indication of where this ambitious novel goes wrong. The first half of the story nicely recounts the innocence and frustrations of Catholic schoolboys--the sports, the psycho nuns and the nurturing ones, and, of course, the early awareness of girls. Paul's great love is one Ann Marisse, a blond Italian-American from a large and friendly family. Despite some furtive kisses and gropings, Paul saves his pent-up sexuality for a series of less perfect girls until Ann Marisse finally gets wind of his other life and they eventually split. The novel abruptly shifts to many years later, with Paul realizing that all his film work derives from the same primal scene: his first look at Ann Marisse. Though married to a famous European actress, Paul still swoons for his ideal woman, now married to a childhood enemy. He finally returns from his long European exile to create his dreamscape in Carmel, though it's not clear whom he's enjoying it with at the self-consciously poetic end. A meta-level overlay--complete with footnotes and commentary--weighs too heavily on an otherwise amiable and nostalgic narrative.