cover image Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke

Anna Campion. Hyperion Books, $22.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-6349-5

Sisters Anna and Jane Campion (the Australian directors responsible for such films as Loaded and The Piano) have collaborated on this intriguing though rambling first novel. Twenty-year-old Ruth Baron is dragged back from India, where she has joined a bizarre cult, to her parent's home outside of Sydney. Once there, her family forces her to undergo an intensive ""exiting"" process meant to de-program her from the insidious influence of the cult's leader, Chidaatma Baba. The expert recruited for the job is P.J. (John) Waters, a world-weary fellow in his mid-50s who flies in from New York and secludes himself with the rebellious young woman for the three-day intensive treatment. At first, they circle each other suspiciously; John is aggressive, and Ruth fights him every step of the way. Soon, distrust gives way to a dangerous and undeniable mutual passion. Other characters in this heaving, breathless novel--Ruth's vague, teary mother, older brothers and bumbling sister-in-law--seem to function as clueless comic foils for the burgeoning intensity between Ruth and John. The authors successfully demonstrate the seductive pull of cults and are at their best when transforming Ruth's need for spiritual guidance into her psychosexual delirium. The narrative, told from the alternating points of view of John and Ruth, has a hazy, druggy quality, which is ambiguous and confusing. The fact that this tale is the book version of an upcoming film starring Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet contributes to the reader's likely awareness that thenovel is a sketchy, early version of its more fitting cinematic manifestation. (May)