Scott Landers, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-13021-3

This ambitious first novel invites comparisons with Alex Garland's The Beach , though it is more grown-up and better written. Like Garland, Landers puts dissatisfied Westerners seeking fulfillment in a deceptively idyllic Southeast Asia, in this case the fictional island of Tambralinga. At the center is Conrad, a meek computer systems analyst on a desperate second honeymoon with Lucy, who's furious at him for losing her all-important guidebook. Fearing "that he was missing it, that better half of existence, the throbbing center of what it meant to be alive," Conrad heads to a brothel on another island, while Lucy finds the guidebook and embarks on her own adventure. The couple's estrangement permits Landers to detail well-rendered but fairly typical highlights of their tours: Buddhist monks with mystical powers, star-lit beach trysts, secret swimming spots, prostitution and drug use, all set against the background of a hazily sketched political-religious conflict. But if Landers sometimes succumbs to travel-novel clichés, his Conrad is older and more complex, imbued with a welcome skepticism—a tired detachment that evokes Fowler from The Quiet American —about the "appallingly deliberate" nature of adventure tourism in Asia. Toward the end, thoughtfulness gives way to a flurry of action and implausible coincidences. But readers will find the ride, half jungle cruise and half roller coaster, worth the price of admission. Agent, Caron Knauer. (June)

Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4299-2199-2
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