The mind's freedom to invent and reshape reality is blunted by the dead weight of materialismin this sluggish metaphysical fantasy by the Argentine-born author of Nobody Nothing Never (1994), etc. In 1855, a Maltese-Italian magician and telepathist, Bianco, is exposed as a fake by a ``positivist cabal'' and forced to flee to the Argentine pampas. Endeavoring to become rich and reclaim his honor, Bianco condescends to involve himself with such material entities as building bricks, wire fencing, a cattle-wealthy doctor (Garay L¢pez), who agrees to become his business partner, and the beautiful young woman (Gina), initially involved with the doctor, who consents (for reasons not clearly revealed) to marry Bianco and assist his ongoing ``experiments in telepathic communication.'' The real world obtrudes upon this dreamer's hermetic sensibility in such forms as Gina's pregnancy, the contentious avarice that disfigures Garay L¢pez's privileged family, and a climactic outbreak of yellow fever. Bianco's preference for the world inside his own head finds expression in tediously reiterated (and seemingly arbitrary) abstractions, permitting the confused reader respite only when the focus shifts away from Saer's self-absorbed protagonist. The novel's pessimism is far more successfully incarnated in Gary L¢pez's urbane ``theatrical allegory...The Magi,'' an unwritten work whose deadpan premise is that no Christ child ever gets born in Bethlehem after all and life there goes on pretty much as usual. Saer's own novel, being about as uneventful as any can be, could use more of such subversive witand greater development of a fascinating subplot in which a half-breed deserter from the army fathers a large family, rapes his daughters, is murdered by his eldest son, and leaves among his survivors a mute, traumatized boy who somehow metamorphoses into a verse-speaking prophet. Here was the novel Saer didn't write. Only in such brief sequences does this soporific treatise shake itself awake and assume the welcome contours of living and breathing fiction.