Picks and Pans Review: The Floating Island

UPDATED 05/27/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/27/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Garrett Epps

Here is Washington, D.C. as slapstick comedy: Congressmen hang out in discos, bureaucrats are stupid and vicious, petitioners for grants are wily innocents, journalists' brains are sponges of useless trivia, and a religious cult is more corrupt than anything else in this most rotten of all towns. Epps, who worked as a reporter for the Washington Post and wrote a very funny political novel, The Shad Treatment, has no heroes. His central character, a bumbling Division of Evaluation, Training and Morale appointee whose department is beset with vicious infighting, is Gerald Nash. He drifts into an affair with an older woman; then he drops her when a former girlfriend, a beautiful TV news commentator, takes him up again. It is Epps' idea of great fun to have a gentle ex-baseball player wind up in the cult's temple, where a few candy bars in his briefcase can upset the whole, health-food-crazed religious order. This is the kind of novel in which, during a wedding, "the bridal couple read antiphonally from The Hobbit. A Unitarian cleric discoursed on the theme of happiness, beginning with Need for and progressing through Inevitability of. One small cousin was sick in the ironwood bush." Witty as it is, The Floating Islandis not a book with a happy ending. The characters and the situations are utterly outrageous—yet the reader comes away haunted by a spooky feeling that the novel is much too much like what probably happens in the real Washington, D.C. (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95)

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