The first half of McAfee's initially promising but ultimately disappointing second novel (after Slow Walk in a Sad Rain) concerns young Johnny McBride's struggle to maintain his integrity in the hardscrabble desert of deep West Texas. This is rough stuff for a coming-of-age novel: Johnny is at war with his abusive sheep-herding father, who may have murdered Johnny's mother and seems bent on killing him too; he's also in love with Sarah Eberhard, who belongs to one of the richest families in the small town of Van Horn. Fortunately, Johnny comes under the wise, gentle influence of Jose Navarette, an old Villista and foreman of the Eberhard ranch. Unfortunately, this attractive, serio-comic narrative of growing up on a 1960s desert ranch is the prologue to the weaker Part Two, in which Johnny's story jumps abruptly six years forward to North Vietnam, where he's serving as a Green Beret. After a botched mission, a series of improbable, Odysseus-like adventures eventually brings Johnny, now a deserter, to Mexico and into the home and arms of Jose's widow. This rushed conclusion lacks McAfee's previous feeling for the land, the people who inhabit it, their history and their hearts. Clearly, the novel wants more length, more development. McAfee is a potentially powerful writer, but he needs a broader canvas to tell this tale of generational change and global scope. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997 Release date: 10/01/1997 Genre: Fiction
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