cover image Lucky Town

Lucky Town

James Brown, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $22.95 (287p) ISBN 978-0-15-100067-8

In his fourth novel, Brown ( Hot Wire ) tells the intriguing story of Bobby Barlow, a teenaged boy growing up in the early '70s with a father who is more son than parent. Floyd Barlow is a laborer, gambler and occasional con man who drifts from one apartment complex to another from Seattle to Vegas in search of women or cash, with Bobby desperately trailing behind. Melinda, a former working girl turned law student and policeman's wife, motivates many of Floyd's moves, and eventually joins the pair. Bobby, functioning as the ``adult'' of this dysfunctional family, narrates the story from the perspective of his aged self, but his voice, like his life, is thin and hollow. He has a mouthful and headful of quasi-adult thoughts, but no real handle on what they mean; whatever bonds keep the ungainly trio together remain baffling. As Bobby puts it, they all have ``nothing better to do but walk around and kill time.'' Brown's moribund prose and empty pretension (``I thought of the word power . . . I thought of dark clouds. Lightning. The works.'') match the characters' deadened inner lives. In spite of the affectless prose, however, the novel has a dark and ruminative force. (Apr.)