Poet Flook's first novel gets off to a taut, edgy start, but the self-indulgent characters grow tiresome well before the conclusion.
Protagonist Margaret is the sanest member of the upper-middle- class Rice clan--a blended family composed of the remnants left after death and desertion--but in the aftermath of divorce, she's hooked up with Tracy, an abusive poseur. She tries to stay responsible for the sake of her young daughter, Celeste (when Margaret has sex with Tracy, ``Celeste flickered on and off in the background like a strip of wavering neon'') but is exhausted by the force of Tracy's psychopathic will. He likes to destroy things; sex shades to sadomasochism and can rarely be distinguished from rape. Tracy also zeroes in on other people's obsessions: the erotic undertow between Margaret and stepbrother Cam; Cam's compelling need to find his natural father. When Margaret reluctantly goes home to Delaware to see Cam (despondent over his own divorce), she must deal with her mixed-message-sending stepmother, the father she loves, the stepsister who always resented that closeness. Tracy follows Margaret, influences Cam, and soon the three head to Chicago with stolen car and pilfered petty cash. They take side-trips (including a visit to Margaret's commune-dwelling, love-and- peace-and-sexual-voyeurism stepsister), confront Cam's father, and play out their own triangular relationship in an atmosphere of escalating violence.
Some chilling moments and marvelous writing, but these characters rarely earn either sympathy or a belief in the degree of disturbance they show.