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IN BRIEF

Fiction

June 04, 1995|ERIKA TAYLOR

THE LAST BONGO SUNSET by Les Plesko (Simon & Schuster: $21; 272 pp.) The jacket copy of "The Last Bongo Sunset" describes it as a "stark, unflinching portrait of the [drug] addict's degradation of body and spirit," and that, in one sentence, entirely encapsulates Les Plesko's profoundly irritating first novel. It is abundantly clear by page three that the naive protagonist will begin using heroin, get in over his head, see terrible things, eventually do terrible things, and then in a showdown ending, either escape the junkie life, or not. All that might make a readable, albeit mediocre, first novel except for this: Les Plesko is much, much too talented for such an easy trap.

"Stark, unflinching" portraits of junkies are no more inherently interesting than "stark, unflinching" portraits of insurance salesmen. It is what's being said that matters. Throughout this stylistically gorgeous, but done-to-death story, the unnamed narrator has frequent flashbacks about his Hungarian parents, flashbacks that overflow with complicated, hidden emotion. It is here that Plesko finally shines, giving us a glimpse of something unusual. I just hope that in the future Plesko's characters will be people before they are junkies.

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