Duff Brenna, Author . Picador USA $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-26865-7

"I wanted to be James Dean and Elvis rolled into one and Mr. America too," says Buck Root, the hapless weightlifter who is the catalyst for Brenna's story of burnout and renewal in the Minnesota countryside. After an absence of 20 years, Buck (originally Mikey Routelli) returns to his hometown, Medicine Lake, accompanied by his girlfriend, Joy Faust, and her senescent mother, Livia Miles. Down on their luck and close to desperate, the trio is taken in by Buck's plump, balding cousin George McLeod, whose life has gone stale collecting rents from his apartment complex. Immediately, George's life becomes, if not happier, at least much more exciting. Erstwhile Las Vegas dancer and stripper Joy excites George's awed lust, while Buck, who brags about the Hollywood stars he has met, demands George's constant attention. George makes the mistake of taking Buck to his favorite strip joint, the Body Shop, where Buck meets Connie, a dancer, who steals the muscle man from Joy. Joy and her mother stay on with George, an odd household arrangement. Livia increasingly lives in a dream world based on an old western novel she constantly rereads, fantasizing about the hero, cowboy Cody. Joy finally puts Livia in a nursing home, but Livia escapes, and Joy is overwhelmed by crushing guilt. Meanwhile, Connie has vanished, and Buck has only an improbable story to account for her disappearance. As the narrative darkens into violence and tragedy, each event seems inevitable, and ineffably sad. Brenna (Too Cool) perfectly captures Minnesota dialect, and Livia's senile-to-lucid babbling is spot-on. While his characters are often sexist, their situations painful and their choices self-destructive, Brenna never allows their easily caricatured gestures to overwhelm their considerable natural dignity. Author tour. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/20/2001
Release date: 00/00/0000
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4299-7126-3
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-312-26914-2
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