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IN BRIEF

Fiction

May 26, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

A WHITE MERC WITH FINS by James Hawes (Pantheon: $22; 289 pp.). James Hawes is English, so the car in the title of this mordantly funny Generation X novel is a Mercedes, not a Mercury. And the British class system is so omnipresent that Hawes' characters refer to it in shorthand. The balding, unwed 28-year-old narrator, who works as a temp and lives in a shed in his older sister's backyard, is terrified of slipping from LMC (lower middle class) all the way to UnderC. Otherwise the scene is familiar. The narrator and his mates--Chicho, Brady, Suzy the Black Widow--have college educations but doubt they will ever have decent jobs. "London is a mincing machine, where people go in one end and money comes out the other, and we are on the wrong end," the narrator says. "Crime is just nature's way of rightsizing income differentials," he adds to justify the bank heist he is planning. "You vote for the differentials, you get the crime."

As a caper story, "White Merc" is a wild, sexy romp through the whole class alphabet, involving IRA bombers, communist trendies, "Reservoir Dogs" fetishists, bluebloods, skinheads, ex-convicts, film moguls and a black man whose UC (upper-class) accent puts even aristocratic whites to shame. But the narrator's musings about how his generation got locked out of "MC Heaven" are pointed and sometimes poignant. His asides on mortgages, love, smoking, AIDS, heroin and the underground economy make us reflect even as we laugh. Such sure-footed balance is rare in a first novel; let's hope this isn't Hawes' last.

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