Eight interrelated vignettes set in Australia's less-traveled, tropic ways, by the prolific Australian novelist (Reaching Tin River, 1990, etc.). Here, narrator Leverson--a one-legged, sardonically self-styled "motelier"--introduces the odd little scattering of hapless people who live in his "Mango," a tired place of wet leaves, where Leverson himself watches cartoons and observes the "brief congruences" of strangers and neighbors. There's a magic, but also a sadness, that makes him, at the close, "ache like a tooth." Among the flotsam of Mango: an old odd-job man who writes terrible poetry, and a young, puffy Jesus-freak, whose love reaches only a diminished seventh; two fierce prelates and their varieties of cruelty; an aging woman who has cultivated loneliness and insularity to bitter rejection; a charming braggart, "one of nature's dazzling failures" who lets lie fallow his one mighty gift--a beautiful singing voice, self-parodied at boozy parties; a woman who inches her way into a horrid sadomasochistic relationship, finding in a damaging lover "the desired coefficient, the necessary factor of disaster she craved and detested." Throughout, drifting hippies exhibit callousness and driven self-destruction. The title story, possibly the best, in which an icily cruel man stages a stalking mock-hunt and "capture" of a pineapple, as a joke to entertain a female guest, symbolizes neatly the arid result of living as "all excitability and want." Finally, Leverson leaves for a talk about spirit and soul with a philosophical friend, as he ponders life and "an unending accretion of alternatives." Life among the lost, enriched and compassionately appreciated by Astley's bitter humor--which stings and vivifies.