Powell returns to the coastal South Carolina town that was the setting for his first novel, Edisto (1984), and though it's years later, his ""lost souls"" haven't exactly found themselves. Thank goodness for that, for nobody needs platitudes when we have Powell's inimitably goofy sententiousness--a compendium of boozy wit and dyspeptic wisdom. Simons Manigault, the precocious narrator of Edisto, has grown up, sort of. After managing to secure a degree in architecture, he's now retreated back home. His country club Daddy, meanwhile, expects him to fulfill his destiny with a fancy Atlanta firm. Simons's mom languishes by the shore, gin and tonic still in hand. Visiting her is Simons's sexy older cousin Patricia. Simons and she become lovers, creating ""a match made in helplessness,"" with no small amount of taboo tossed in. Simons's first cousin has had a series of relationships with men that, he learns, always end in psychotic behavior and lesbian dabblings, matters sufficiently alarming to convince him to hit the road. After a desultory period spent fish brokering in Texas, Simons catches up with his mother's old lover, Taurus, now a game warden in Louisiana, who shows him what ""lies at the absolute end of the road of dalliance."" A night with two obese nurses also demonstrates ""the nadir of sexual opportunity,"" and Simons heads home to become a ""visionless architect shacked up with his cousin,"" settling into a career in which he blithely dupes his clients with artsy lingo. Simons has always been AWOL (""absent with opprobrious love""), though now he's transferred that love from his mother to Patricia. All of which proves his point that ""you get in grooves in life, and you by God stay in them until the record plays out."" Powell cleverly mocks the burdens of southern history (""The Wawer, The Wawer!""), and plays Simons as the most outlandish southern poseur, but it's his awesome command of language that finally makes him a writer to reckon with.