Baja

Johnny Payne, Author
Johnny Payne, Author Limited Editions $12.95 (137p) ISBN 978-0-9647515-8-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
For devotees of the offbeat in American fiction, Payne's second novel, Kentuckiana--a baroque, deeply literate, darkly funny chronicle of a troubled family living in the 1970s outside Lexington, Ky.--was one of last year's happier surprises. Fans of that book will be puzzled by Payne's third, a good-natured road novel no more ambitious than its handsome, dorkily impulsive protagonist. ""An ex-law student and ex-medical student, chronically deprived of sleep, on edge in the expected ways,"" Vic has just broken up with his wonderful classicist girlfriend Andrea (""the Latin Lover"") in California, driven off to New York to take a corporate summer job, lost his nerve on the New Jersey Turnpike and retraced his tire-tracks by way of Nevada. There Vic picks up a nutty hitchhiker who presents him with the deed to a tract in Baja California before taking off in Vic's (actually Andrea's) moribund station wagon. When Vic discovers that the thief is an escaped jailbird, he and a footloose, towering parole officer named Beth (""Beef"") Wellington follow a hunch and bum a ride down to Baja with a middle-aged, asthmatic fleamarket salesman. Naturally, this half-assed law-enforcement juggernaut ends up sweeping Andrea with it across the border as Vic loses sleep deciding between his exasperated ex and blase Beef, whose boy-toy he has become. Payne's kindly wit is still very much in evidence, but despite quirkily sketched characters and a few misguided, desultory stabs at pathos in Vic's love affairs, none of the subplots adds up to much. Between moments of exhilaration at the sheer lightness of the entertainment, readers used to a more seriously funny Payne may find themselves asking: Are we there yet? (Sept.)
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