Manila-born Rosca (The Monsoon Collection, 1983; State of War, 1988, and the nonfiction Endgame: The Fall of Marcos, 1987) continues her less-than-compelling exploration of power, corruption, political and sexual intrigue in the Philippines. In a world that runs on clan alliances and gasolina (i.e., whatever keeps things running: car fuel, alcohol, bribe money, offers of sex, etc.), Hector Basbas has just won (or bought) the Presidency, but when the incumbent refuses to step down, it's clear that His Excellency (to he) will have to come up with more gasolina, US covert support, and strong-arm persuasion if he, with his twin sister Katerina, are to achieve their goal: transforming a so called democracy into a monarchical dynasty. The twins' maneuvers--along with hints of their incestuous connection--are filtered mostly through the point-of-view of Teresa Tikloptuhod. Teresa, daughter of a Provincial Governor, saved herself from terminal boredom and became a Basbas confidante by providing assistance when Katerina was traveling the country on foot, apparently as part of a demented pilgrimage. Author Rosca, who was briefly imprisoned under martial law in 1972, pleasantly surprises by giving the tyrannical twins some sympathetic complexity: Katerina's shoe collection can be explained by childhood humiliations; Hector does penance for his evil acts of murderous treachery. Still, no character here emerges as real or even interesting; attempts at surreal humor and magic realism never lift off the ground. A low-energy outing, despite the atmosphere of excess.