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.