Jasmine Nights

S. P. Somtow, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (379p) ISBN 978-0-312-11834-1
In a daring synthesis of East and West, the Thai-born Somtow, whose previous books include several horror novels (including the popular Vampire Junction and its sequel, Valentine) spins a fiercely inventive, funny and moving story of a precocious Thai growing up in 1963 on an isolated estate with three eccentric, strict aunts. The 12-year-old narrator, a cunning if naive recluse named Justin, learns the art of adaptation, a skill he will sorely need, from his pet chameleon, Homer. His parents, absent for many years, may be CIA agents in Vietnam; his senile great-grandmother enacts scenes from Hitchcock's Psycho; and each of his aunts is secretly bedding the rakish family doctor. Meanwhile, Justin's treehouse playmate, Virgil, a black American from Georgia, oscillates between vernacular ``Black English'' and WASP-like diction, puncturing the racial stereotypes and prejudices of his and Justin's two comrades-one Afrikaner, one white American-and of Justin's aunts. The plot includes blackmail, seduction, shamanism; a raunchy metaphysical satire on sex and death; a send-up of the West's exotic image of the East; and a subversive parody of two genres, the coming-of-age novel and the mythic hero's quest. Even if the satire wears thin as incongruities pile up, Somtow's manic comic energy and gift for human drama power a novel of abundant riches. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/1995
Release date: 01/01/1995
Paperback - 356 pages - 978-0-9800149-4-5
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