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Except for an unearned outburst of family-tragedy at the very end, this first novel is remarkably devoid of plot, character development, or drama of any kind: it's really just a blandly chatty travelogue--as the young narrator (irritatingly unnamed) recalls his fossil-hunting trip into the Badlands from a few years back. Along with the narrator are his beloved brother Mark--who pretends to be a National Geographic photographer--and their blind pal Ben. The three set off in ""Bronchitis,"" their Ford Bronco truck--driving from hometown St. Paul to the Dakotas and beyond, meeting a few crusty characters, making a few futile stabs at dinosaur-bone-hunting. They make a detour to Aspen to pick up Mark's off-and-on girlfriend Leslie, ""blond, beautiful, and brilliant."" (There are some hints of triangular sexual tension here--Leslie is drawn to gentle Ben, the narrator lusts after her--but they don't build, develop, or resolve.) The bone-hunting continues in Montana; there's a scuffle with some bikers; Leslie leaves the group. And the three guys return to St. Paul tired, dirty, but safe--though the last few chapters tell us that Mark later succumbed to ""crippling anxiety attacks,"" followed by a suicidal car-accident. (""My brother really is gone. For good. My little sweet. My love boy."") Unfortunately, first-novelist Rumsey doesn't prepare the way for this maudlin finale with anything like a full portrait--or even a full sketch--of Mark's presumably troubled character; nor does the supposedly intense brother-relationship emerge with any conviction. Instead, most of the space here is given over to on-the-road chitchat (lots of bathroom humor), to snippets of science or history, and to the narrator's banal, adolescent musings on anything that comes to mind: baseball (""it's baseball that I'm out and out in love with""); underwear; books (""Hell, I love a book""); the beauties of the West; rock 'n' roll (""It is powerful""); the National Geographic; photography; Sitting Bull; My Lai; water (""Life is water""); etc. Mild, YA-ish entertainment for those interested in a leisurely natural-history tour--but virtually nonexistent as even semi-serious fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1984
Publisher: Morrow