COTTONWOOD

Scott Phillips, Author . Ballantine $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-345-46100-1

Western epic, black comedy and soft porn are cleverly spliced in this genre-bending offering from Phillips (The Walkaway ; The Ice Harvest ), which relates the experiences of Bill Ogden, sometime farmer, sometime saloon-owner, sometime photographer in 1870s Kansas. Ogden, 27, is a self-taught Greek and Latin scholar and a sexual libertine capable of seducing almost any woman he encounters. Estranged from his wife, he never brags about his peccadilloes, although it seems that his devotion to oral sex sets him apart from rivals and makes him the heart's desire of the voracious women who seem to be everywhere on the frontier. The story, such as it is, centers on the arrival of Marc Leval and his lovely wife, Maggie, in the tiny farm community of Cottonwood. Marc capriciously selects Bill as a partner in his scheme to attract Texas drovers to a railhead, while Maggie plays a less-than-discreet game of spider and fly with Bill, the Kansas Casanova. In the meantime, an outlaw family membarks on a crime spree that eventually pits Bill against Marc and sends Bill and Maggie fleeing. Jumping ahead 20 years, Bill's story resumes in San Francisco, where he is making his way as a photographer and sexual athlete. He learns that Maggie, from whom he is long separated, has returned to Cottonwood, so he abandons his life in California and returns, bent on rekindling their love affair. Bill's salaciousness rivals Don Juan's and he is utterly devoid of scruples, but his deadpan humor and cunning indifference to life's vicissitudes keep him likable. Lively pacing and artful prose lend polish to Phillips's cheerfully grotesque chronicle of western antics. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/15/2003
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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