cover image One Summer Out West

One Summer Out West

Philippe Labro. Ballantine Books, $7.95 (245pp) ISBN 978-0-345-36364-0

A scholarship student from France, attending college in Virginia, takes a summer job with the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado in 1955. The unnamed student, called Frenchy by his co-workers, is young, impressionable and ready for adventure. Hitching a ride with two thugs, he gets caught in the middle of a robbery. Falling for a pretty folksinger on a bus ride out of Cincinnati, he contracts a venereal disease. Full of grandiose romantic notions of the American West, the student makes sweeping generalizations about the habits and customs of its inhabitants, the silliest of which is that everyone drinks Coors beer. Of course, his backbreaking job (spraying diseased trees with insecticide) makes a muscular man out of him and, as the cliche goes, he eventually earns the respect of his crude, macho companions by dint of his superior intellectual abilities. From the beginning, Labro ( The Foreign Student ) teases the reader with the promise of a suspenseful denouement but the essentially plotless action ends with a whimper. Perhaps the fault of the translator, the dialogue is distressingly hokey and the novel as a whole has a bullying, hyper-masculine quality. (Apr.)