HIDDEN PLACE

Shawn Shiflett, Author . Akashic $15.95 (285p) ISBN 978-1-888451-50-4

In this flat, uninspired debut novel, two vacationing Chicago college students, the laid-back Roman and his fiery girlfriend, Mila, become embroiled in an increasingly violent showdown between resentful locals and American tourists in Puerto Escondido, "the next Acapulco." Despite ample action and conflict, Shiflett sells his juicy story short with dull, clunky prose, cardboard characters and a lack of coherent insight into the darkness of American xenophobia and Third World bitterness. Set in 1976, long before "political correctness" compelled collegians to at least ostensibly respect their neighbors to the south, Escondido is overrun with hippie kids, most notably Jay and Otto, a scrappy, broke pair from Oklahoma with a penchant for violence and alcohol. Deeply racist and unstable, Jay unleashes his fury on the townspeople in acts large and small, inexplicably attracting Mila and challenging Roman's conscience. To further complicate matters, Roman must allay the suspicions of Sanchez, the puffed-up and corrupt police chief. The melodramatic, carnal Mila and immature, insensitive Roman frolic through a tedious relationship based on little more than sex that hardly seems worth the trouble, and awkward descriptions—"Her brown eyes, soft enough to melt a man's socks" and "the evening sun turn[ed] the ocean into a sheet of jeweled frosting"—further weaken the narrative. The book only cursorily investigates America's might and arrogance toward its southern neighbor, sidestepping what could have been an otherwise meaty and engaging story. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
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Ebook - 330 pages - 978-1-61775-254-4
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