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The premise of Boswell's second novel (after Crooked Hearts, 1987)--an alienated gringo escapes his past in the politicized landscape of Latin America--is on the verge of becoming a clich‚ in contemporary fiction. It calls, of course, for some secondhand ""magic realism,"" a predictable mix of myth and reality, with lots of lush tropical imagery and plenty of hot-blooded sex. Leon Green, a twice-divorced Californian in his 30s, has come south ""to find happiness, to escape loneliness, to discover the true shape of his desire."" In sleepy and remote La Boca, a quiet town in a war-torn Central American country, the handsome, blond Leon manages the run-down Hotel Esperanza, where the occasional Yankee comes to stay, encroaching on Leon's little patch of paradise. Flashbacks reveal that the mysterious North American was a self-absorbed philanderer who ran from his own inability to commit himself to one woman. In La Boca, his indecisiveness persists, with eventually tragic consequences. Pilar Rios, Leon's mature lover, is a Marxist professor in exile. Having been purged from the university, she now lives under an assumed name in La Boca, where she seems to spend most of her time in bed with Leon--even though their sex life is dull. Leon's other lover, the 17-year-old Lourdes, provides the missing elements--she's athletic, adventurous, and full of longing. But his precarious love life is soon complicated by the appearance of a sultry Asian-American, an embezzler waiting for her co-conspirator/lover. Between bed-hopping, Leon roams the beaches with his buddy Ramon, a local fisherman and tour guide, and also something of a compulsive storyteller, given to fantastical tales of La Boca's strange history. Politics intrude on this idyll when Pilar agrees to harbor a dying revolutionary. Further trouble in paradise results from Lourdes' homicidal jealousy. Only when Leon loses all his women does he manage to accomplish his first act of goodness. A Formulaic story of political intrigue and personal desire that quickly bogs down in its contrivances--the overheated locale, the improbable characters, the authorial posturing.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1989
Publisher: Knopf