Looking for Mo

Daniel Duane, Author
Daniel Duane, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-19083-5
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Duane returns to the heights of his nonfiction Lighting Out: A Vision of California and the Mountains, in a shaggy first novel that will do much to justify the ways of crunchy young Bay Area Californians to their indoorsy contemporaries back East. Amateur rock-climber Ray Connelly is hanging out in San Francisco cafes, avoiding rejection slips for his first novel, scoping fellow slacker Fiona (an artist who works in the local supermarket) and missing his adored best friend, Mo Lehrman, who, with typical knight-of-faith gusto, has set out for Baja with a surfboard strapped to his bicycle. Then, all at once, Ray gets together with Fiona, Mo comes back to San Francisco--and Mo's father (a veteran climber with California publishing connections) blasts Ray for stealing his son's stories. The upshot: Ray follows his buddy to Yosemite National Park, where he tries to win back Mo's respect and trust by scaling the dreaded rock face known as El Capitan. Although the subplots never come within shouting distance of each other, the details carry us along like so much climbing tackle: Ray's fondness for Mo overshadows his attraction to Fiona, but the friendship between the two women is romantic enough in its own right. The virtuoso rock-climbing passages never pull their thematic weight but will be dizzying to acrophobic readers; the characters don't show much imagination but do seem unmistakably true to life. If the whole doesn't quite add up to a gripping novel, it does give us an entertaining glimpse at an intelligently Epicurean way of life. (June)
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