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Mooney, in his debut novel, has stirred up something sticky yet edgy, often brilliantly textured, but also mostly empty of nourishment: a peanut-brittle sort of book. In the near-future, war threatens the world on Antarctica; increasing numbers of New Yorkers suffer collapse at the hands of ""information sickness""; and Melissa, 29, is a researcher in a John-Lilly-like dolphin-intelligence project. As the book begins, she has just returned from the half-flooded ""ocean-house"" lab on St. Thomas--where, quite without planning, on her last day, she and the dolphin, Peter, had become physical lovers. Right at the start, then, Mooney's talent is stretched to the limit: he makes the dolphin/human sex not only un-preposterous but necessary (unlike similar attempts in other recent novels), and whenever he writes about Melissa-and-Peter he is impressive. Unfortunately, however, when Mooney plays this relationship off with Melissa's back-home-in-New-York life, trouble sets in. With her mother dying of cancer, Melissa is clearly in need. Boyfriend Jeffrey, an architect-turned-schoolteacher, can't fit the bill completely, nor can best-friend Nicole. And, compared to the purity of the dolphin/Melissa relationship, these human traffickings fall way short, with awfully soapy complications: whether Melissa's mother will tell her married lover that she's dying; whether Nicole will admit to her quick-tempered lover that she hasn't had the abortion he thinks she's had; whether Melissa and Jeffrey can hang in there together after her telling him about her ""affair"" with the dolphin. Mooney works these vignettes in somewhat the way that Don deLillo does, with a fusillade of birdshot intelligence, very urban and very flexible and fired off from different heights. But a lot of the polish comes off as a bored circling--as when one character, an adventurous twin of Jeffrey's, is introduced without any other seeming purpose than to provide a list of varied sensations experienced while he's learning to sky-dive. Still, those dolphin/Melissa sections are particularly fine--daring, centrifugal, atmospheric, curious--and they bode well for first-novelist Mooney as he tightens up and gains surer, less show-offy footing.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1981
ISBN: 0374528284
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux