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Ike Tucker, 18, is a skinny, naive kid in a Southwest desert town: he's good with motorcycles; he never knew his father; his mother cleared out when Ike was five--so he's grown up with just an uncle and his older sister Ellen. Two years ago, however, Ellen ran off to California, partly (Ike thinks guiltily) because of her brother's vaguely incestuous inclinations. And now Ike is told that Ellen disappeared somewhere in Mexico--while in the company of three guys from Huntington Beach. ""He supposed that when someone took your sister you did something about it."" So Ike goes to Huntington Beach, buys a surfboard, and starts meeting the town's bikers and surfers. His first friend, tattooed biker Preston, turns out to be an old surfing buddy (but now an enemy) of surfing-legend/drug.dealer Hound Adams--one of those men last seen with Ike's sister. So Ike is soon caught up in local feuds and ugly street-fights--testing his own capacity for violence. Similarly, he's introduced to sex by somewhat spacey Michelle. And then Ike finds himself befriended by his supposed enemy, charismatic Hound--who almost immediately turns Ike into a tattooed, cocaine-snorting pimp, joining in beach-house orgies and home sex-movies. (""And yet, somewhere in the midst of all that guilt and disgust, there was this other feeling that was in some way connected to that curiosity about himself he had felt earlier, a dark sense of satisfaction lurking in the gritty morning, a sense of awe almost, at what he had done, him, Low Boy, picking up girls in the heart of surf city and fucking their brains out in the heat of a California night."") But when Ike finds Hound in bed with Michelle, he sheds some of his complacency about ""joining the fuckups"": he renews his interest in his sister's fate--a fate which becomes clear (more or less) in a violent finale involving sado-porn and ritual murder. First-novelist Nunn demonstrates promising talent here--in stretches of quietly forceful narration, in some subtle character touches (Michelle is nicely complex) and psychological insights. He brings insufficient freshness, however, to a familiar, dated loss-of-innocence scenario--with the themes flatly announced at regular intervals. (""It was not only Ellen Tucker he pursued. It was himself as well. . . he was like a snake shedding skin, and the skin was the past."") The plain, benumbed prose too often lapses into mannerism. And Ike is neither credible nor engaging enough to provide a compelling center for this earnest, rather dank blend of mystery, sex/drugs/surfing subculture, and coming-of-age traumas.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Delacorte