First-novelist Poirer (Naked Pueblo, 1999) offers up a desultory combination of the world-weary and the preposterous: a 14-year-old wiser than any adult, a western boy’s disenchantment with “sophisticated” life at an eastern prep school, and an eccentric doper who serves as his world’s moral center.
Ellis Whitman is the wealthy Arizona kid who grows up among the stunning natural beauties of the desert west and the funkier beauties on the home front. His mother Wendy is a former hippie who adopts New Age and self-improvement techniques as readily and fruitlessly as new men to replace her husband Frank. Meanwhile, Stephen Cagliano, a.k.a. Goat Man, tends to his goats and cleans the pool on a nonstop mellow high fueled by his killer “hybrid” weed. Initiated into dope smoking at 11, Ellis is improbably accepted at Pennsylvania’s Gates Prep, where everyone is absolutely pent-up and uptight about school work and tradition and stuff. But that’s no problem for Ellis, who, supplied with dad’s credit card and Goat Man’s hybrid weed, finds mastering upper-level algebra and Latin as easy as buying up reggae CD’s and beer. After a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit Frank and his heiress girlfriend Victoria, Ellis starts thinking the old guy may not be so bad. Breezing through midterms, Ellis comes home for a trek into Mexico, ostensibly to help a refugee woman across the border at night. But he’s bummed to find Goat Man smuggling coke instead. Back home, Mom is still such a mess that Ellis wonders if there’s something to staying sober and playing by the rules.
In the absence of complex or sympathetic characters, the brightest lights here are the ones that hover just over a bowl of weed, duly inhaling and holding their breaths for the 90 seconds it takes to glean enlightenment from this coming-of-age tale.