cover image Swimming in the Volcano

Swimming in the Volcano

Bob Shacochis. Scribner Book Company, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19260-4

This first novel is as evocative and beautifully written as any of Shacochis's short fiction ( Easy in the Streets ). Unfortunately, however, the greater length reveals failings in the American Book Award winner's grasp of plot, structure and pacing. In 1976, Mitchell Wilson signs on as an agricultural economist on St. Catherine, a fictional island in the Lesser Antilles. Just as he has settled into a routine and a circle of expatriate and native friends, his life is disrupted by the appearance of his first love, the volatile Johanna. Equally unsteady is the island's ruling coalition, which is coming apart under threat from a counterrevolutionary menace fabricated by discontented members. The bulk of the book is filled with careful, almost pointillist, portraits of Wilson's friends, an often unattractive group who combine '60s altruism with '70s self-involvement. After he has so carefully set the stage, though, the rush of events that Shacochis manipulates in the last fourth of the book seems improbable and leaves the reader feeling cheated. While he does not stint on an extravagant backdrop of island patois, poincianas, politics, cocoa tea and callaloo, Shacochis's touch is not so sure as he deploys the characters in this setting: men and women, blacks and whites, colonials and revolutionaries, all struggling with a combination of idealism and reality. (Apr.)