Picks and Pans Review: The Mosquito Coast

updated 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Paul Theroux

Allie Fox is a fictional inventor of a giant ice-making machine. A Yankee eccentric, he has had a few electroshock treatments. He refuses to let his children attend school. "The world is plain rotten," he preaches to them. "People are mean, they're cruel, they're fake, they always pretend to be something they're not." And so he escapes with his family to Central America. There, he believes, his invention will bring prosperity to the jungle. Theroux, best known for such nonfiction as The Great Railway Bazaar, tells his story through the eyes of Fox's oldest son, a 14-year-old who is torn because he loves his father but is also embarrassed and then terrified by the man's ultimately disastrous behavior. This book, which echoes Swiss Family Robinson and The Lord of the Flies, is ambitious and full of adventures both funny and hideous. Its flaw is that, while its tone is realistic, none of it is believable. Allie Fox is a self-consciously literary madman—real-life crazies rarely go around speaking truths one after another. The result is a conceit—the stuff of which pretentious books by serious writers are often made. (Houghton Mifflin, $13.95)

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