THE FLAME FOREST by Michael Upchurch


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A sensitive British teen-ager makes friends with two Americans from a pathologically troubled family: disturbing, not wholly successful fiction by the American author of two previous novels, Jamboree (1980) and Air (1986). Jim Ward is lonely, but surprisingly nice and normal considering his difficult background: his show-biz parents split up (his father was mostly gay anyway; his mother got tired of trying to make it as an actress); and his mother's happy second marriage turned to heartache when her new husband developed Alzheimer's and became a painful and constant responsibility. Jim's main outlet is his guitar--until Peter and Roberts (Robie) Lindquist transfer into his school. They're American siblings who are the subjects of much gossip, supposed to be geniuses and also to have attempted a joint suicide. Jim is both appalled by and attracted to the air of violence and mystery that hangs over the household, and by the scars the seemingly tranquil Robie doesn't try to hide. Drug-taking, often untruthful Peter desires Jim, but Jim courts Robie in a largely chaste romance until a final tragedy involving the Lindquists' half-brother, who alone has seemed almost unscathed by the family. The account, in Jim's very believable voice, of adolescent pain and passion is full of strangeness and a strong sense of place. But an overwritten introductory section, Robie's diaries (revealing at unnecessary length a violent pathology that Jim never guessed at), and a closing section that shows the characters 12 years later all detract from the book's considerable power. A rather marvelous novella tricked out into a sadly uneven novel.

Publisher: Ballantine
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