cover image Mussels


Philip Quinn Morris, Phillip Q. Morris. Random House (NY), $17.95 (307pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57527-8

The mussel divers and other townsfolk of Beaulah Swamp live life on the edge, and in this debut novelan offbeat, crude, sometimes raunchy slice of AmericanaMorris sets this fictional backwater pullulating. At first glance, Alvin Fuqua, ex-Mr. Alabama bodybuilder who yearns to act in Burt Reynolds movies, seems like a muscle-headed lunk. But we gradually learn there is more to Alvin; he suffers from symptoms of the bends, takes steroids and cares about his emaciated, bulimic sister Alma, a weirdo stand-up comic. When Alvin's fellow diver, Johnny Ray, dies, apparently a victim of the bends, we know our weightlifter hero will soon be pumping Johnny's sex-starved widow Donna. What we don't know (nor does Alvin) is the real reason Johnny Ray met his death at the river's bottom. A treasure hunt, a shoot-out, a vicious knifing, romantic entanglements and Alvin's growing sense of responsibility as he takes care of run-around Donna's kids keep this middling macho yarn percolating, though it never lives up to its potential. (Mar.)