Publishers WeeklyStruggling almost from the first page to find its speed, this ungainly road-trip novel is burdened with clich?s and redundancies, and stumbles along under the weight of stillborn characters until it finally sputters to a halt. Charlie Sarris, an itinerant handyman, is a 60-something veteran of WWII suffering from alcoholism and depression. Toothless and emphysemic, he encounters John Stone, an itinerant Sioux (maybe) medicine man who introduces him to the spiritual world of Indian religion. John persuades Charlie to join him in a vision quest, which involves a sweat lodge ceremony, during which John is confronted by his archenemy, Whiteshirt, a rival shaman, who then spiritually pursues the pair in a wild, drunken chase down the eastern seaboard, where the novel grinds to a nervous halt in a series of highly coincidental and improbable events. Vagueness of setting (Pennsylvania, New York?) and era ('60s, '70s, '80s?) cause frustration, and few plot lines are sustained for more than two or three pages. Contrivance beaches are furnished with both working airplanes and handy twigs is coupled with inconsistency in the presentation of the characters' main traits, and the confusion of internal thought with spoken dialogue produces an implausible narrative. The Indian lore is thin (and specious) and becomes tedious and repetitive early on. This is an ambitious effort that could have incorporated magical realism and mystical notions into a gritty quest to discover the value of life, ? la Kerouac and Steinbeck, the two models Dann (The Man Who Melted, etc.) acknowledges in an afterword. Unfortunately, it becomes an endurance test for the reader, who must follow two poorly realized characters asthey struggle to make a confused story meaningful. (Nov. 29) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus ReviewsA failed medicine man and an ex-Marine abandoning his family try to break every rule on a cross-country road trip during which heyoka-the Indian word for being contrary, irresponsibly antisocial, or going plain crazy-leads to mystical revelations, forgiveness and redemption. Since leaving the States for Australia, Dann has kept one foot firmly within the SF genre as an editor (Dreaming Down Under, 2001, etc.) while penning darkly imaginative historicals (The Silent, 1998, etc.). First published a year ago in Australia under the title Bad Medicine, his latest starts slowly as bitter, toothless 66-year-old apartment superintendent Charlie Sarris finds that his secret drinking spot-a furnished room near a water heater-has been rented to one John Stone, a similarly aged, rootless Indian medicine man who likes strong drink and cigars. The landlord hires Stone to help Sarris clean up an apartment that's been trashed by a welfare mother. Intrigued by Stone's peaceful mysticism and barely repressed subversive streak, Sarris joins him in a trek to a sweat lodge in the hills around Binghamton, New York, where a rival medicine man, Joe Whiteshirt (whose wife, Janet, Stone had slept with a long time ago), causes, or fails to prevent, Stone from suffering painful burns. Sarris comes home to find that his teenaged daughter Stephanie is pregnant and goes out on a bender. Soon he and Stone are heading south, to Florida, for a showdown with Whiteshirt. Along the way, Stone's uncertain mysticism and Sarris's reckless need to raise hell converge in a series of harrowing misadventures that seem to make everything worse-until each confronts the unresolved conflicts in his past. Though heavy with New Age poppsychology, Dann makes a story soar as he finds common ground between the complicated animism of Indian spirituality and the gritty, manic desperation of angry old men out to avenge themselves on their youth.
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