cover image The Stars at Noon

The Stars at Noon

Denis Johnson. Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-394-53840-2

The novel's narrator, a nameless young American woman living in Nicaragua, is said to be a journalist, though there is no evidence for that claim. She lives by her wits, a ""little of this and a little of that,'' and is fully engaged in the trade of turning tricks in ``room-by-the-hour joints,'' a career begun in college. Tormented by petty bureaucrats, she seeks desperately to flee the hated country with one of her customers, a murkily portrayed, nameless ``Englishman'' she has come to love; he, in turn, is hounded by a Costa Rican police agent. Their affair is as torpid as the tropical air, and their flight lacks tension and narrative power. At times the purpose here seems partisan and polemical: the country of the Sandinistas is presented from a tourist's view as corrupt and menacing, though the observing eye is that of the shrewd, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking whore. Short as it is, the book could be trimmed by half without loss of substance. Johnson's previous novelsAngels and Fiskadoro displayed an unmistakable gift. Unfortunately, this is inferior work by a manifestly superior writer. (September 18)