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Karl Russell is 21 in 1968, a college junior who has already suffered significant sorrows: the end (through injury) of his promising baseball career--and then the death of his parents and little brother in a car crash (while Karl still was in high school). But now, going to college near Spokane, Washington, Karl starts finding some well-deserved pleasures in life. He has the freedom of a motorcycle, the sexual love of girlfriend Jen, and a great pal in Brazilian student Balao--whose parents invite Karl to visit Rio one summer. The trip turns into a nightmare, however. Karl is never joined in Rio by Balao--who is shockingly murdered back in Washington soon after Karl's departure: a terrible omen as well as a tragedy. Then, while in Brazil, Karl is afflicted by a new, much more severe outbreak of an old case of warts: the huge growths suddenly appear to cover--and disfigure--every inch of his body. And, unable to bear anyone seeing him in this condition, Karl eventually removes himself to a colony of disfigured beggars in a Rio hillside favela. The mounting horror of Karl's affliction is difficult to paraphrase; Davis takes an All-American, affectation-less boy and cuts him loose from every security of family, home, and health, turned into ""something I don't know I would even show my mother if she were alive to see me."" (This phrase, coming when it does in the book, is one that almost makes a reader moan with pain.) The result is a legitimate recasting, then, of the Book of Job--blending fury, shame, misery, an effective end to hope. And its mild tone will prepare few readers for the devastation that will accumulate. Disturbing, even nightmarish work, less to be read than in a certain sense co-endured with poor Karl Russell: a strange, impressive second novel from the remarkable debut-author of Vision Quest (1979).

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking