cover image Mad Boys

Mad Boys

Ernest Hebert. University Press of New England, $22.95 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-87451-643-2

Best known for his Darby novel cycle about small-town New England, Hebert makes a radical departure in this wild, surreal satire set in a dystopia where the Third World Theater broadcasts live footage of guerrilla wars and bumper stickers read ``Rush Limbaugh and Willard Scott in '96.'' Released by his first kidnapper (during the course of the novel he will be abducted again and again), 13-year-old Web emerges amnesiac from a New Hampshire swamp. He is claimed by his ex-hippie, drug-addicted, abusive father, and the two live in a bus until Web runs away. After briefly joining a racist gang, Web heads for New York where he meets the entrepreneurial Royal Durocher, who sells guns to rival street gangs. After another abduction, this time by the Autodidact, an ex-con murderer posing as a Harvard professor, Web ends up in New Mexico searching for his long-lost mother, who belongs to a TV-watching cult. Virtual reality (the computer term here means all manner of real-world simulations) constantly intrudes--as do the demons that periodically possess Web. Unfolding like a video game gone amok, this roller-coaster novel is a virtuoso performance. But while Hebert hones an unsparing vision of American society as a moral vacuum, a culture obsessed with image over substance, the narrative never achieves the manic energy that would entirely captivate the reader . (Sept.)