It^s All Too Beautiful

Lock up your daughters, draw the blinds, and check your house for bugs and hidden cameras. George Garrett has put on his cap and bells again, and every page of his new book constitutes a thought crime against the stupid hypocrisies on which the current American regime is built. Part mystery novel, part social satire. The King of Babylon is more like Tristram Shandy than it is like the postmodern fictions that are set in a nowhere populated by nobodies. It is also that rarest of rare books: an American novel that actually takes a close look at America.

To get at his theme—the America of the 90's that was forged in the late 1960's—Garrett sends his hero (an investigative reporter) back to his hometown in Florida to research two bizarre murders and an apparent suicide that took place on the same day as the assassination of Martin Luther King. The town has changed almost beyond recognition, and the leader of the social and professional elite is a black attorney who inherited the estate of his rich white patron. (Is this old-fashioned paternalism or a symbol of affirmative action?)

Of course, Paradise Springs was no Eden in the 60's: the Episcopalian priest was a drunkard and a womanizer; the intellectual professor, Moe Katz, is a sometimes brilliant fraud (some things have changed: Anglicans rarely chase women any more, and professors are never brilliant) . The rising generation in...

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