From the author of the widely acclaimed Dreams of Leaving (1988), an assured follow-up that further strengthens Thomson's position as an emerging talent to be reckoned with. Set on the West Coast of the near-future, the novel presents a world that has the look and feel of L.A. under the influence. Nathan, an introverted kid from a good neighborhood, lives with his disabled father and the memory of a deceased mother. Meanwhile, over on the wrong side of the tracks, Jed, a neglected and notoriously ugly youth, develops an early knack for blackmail and revenge, running away to join the Womb (War on Moon Beach) Boys, a gang formed with the general aim of destroying funeral parlors located on Moon Beach. Through a run-in with the Womb Boys, Nathan meets Jed, who turns up working with the biggest funeral parlor of them all--the Paradise Corporation--under the gaze of its ghoulish director, Neville Creed. Later, Jed and Nathan's histories intersect again when Nathan is carrying on an affair with Creed, and Jed, double-crossed by Creed, returns for revenge. As in Dreams of Living, Thomson here combines stark 20th-century realism with elements of fantasy. He gets away with it by working within a spectrum--beginning with naturalism and ending somewhere out near William Burroughs territory--and by carrying every scene within a consistent, honed prose style. Maybe it's the preoccupation with death that forces the story to an occasional crawl, but Thomson redeems this one through deft handling of real and fantastic elements, sharp prose, and vivid glimpses into the charred circuitry of his youthful characters.