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CUERVO TALES by Robert Roper


by Robert Roper

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-89919-988-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Roper (The Trespassers, 1992, etc.) presents a novel-in- stories—set in California and ranging from the 60's to the 90's- -made up of mostly touching takes on the lonely fates of mind- damaged hippies and wayfarers. Protagonist Abel Richards—once a sort of wild man—is now divorced and living in Cuervo, California, a town of some 400 people that's ``always been a place to escape to.'' It was also, briefly, a mecca for beats, hippies, and drug-addled seekers. Here, Richards chronicles their tales and works out his own fate. Some of the untitled chapters are sketchy, others rambling sagas, but generally the interconnectedness of the stories saves them from drowning in their own ennui. Early on, wife Jackie leaves Richards for a screenwriter, and daughter Margaret is caught in the middle when Jackie turns from a boisterous married earth-mother into a ``cadaverous figure,'' an alcoholic cokehead. Richards, staying in the old family homestead, quarrels with younger brother Joel when he returns bedraggled from years in Hawaii and recollects the downfalls of Martin Declan—once a mentor in the marijuana trade but now a sort of hermit who gets shot in the back with a bow-and- arrow before disappearing—and brother-in law Terry, who lived with Abel and Jackie for years before traveling and turning into a junkie. The last couple of pieces concern Richards's return to Europe, where he meets a son from a long-ago fling, gets reinvolved with the boy's mother, and then corresponds via long journal entries with the boy once the mother dies. The book, that is, ends with the possibility of redemption and contact. Though shapeless, this does capture—as if in amber—both the romantic, addle-brained Sixties and its deadly psychic hangovers.