LIFE IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING by Daniel Vilmure (Knopf: $15.95; 288 pp.).

This remarkable first novel tells the grim story of two brothers who, on a hot and volatile August night in a Florida port town, roam as if in a nightmare from one sad misadventure to the next. The violence and tragedy of their lives--a legacy passed down from their abusive, alcoholic father and promiscuous mother--is inescapable; they hasten to it with each step they take to flee from it.

Author Daniel Vilmure does not coddle or pander to his audience. He declines to name the brothers or to establish precisely their ages. One can only guess that they are about 11 and 16. All but two of the chapters are narrated by the younger brother, and much of the book's irony derives from his limited point of view. The other two chapters are narrated by the older brother, who is illiterate. His discovery of the truth of his paternity initiates the story's headlong rush toward disaster.

Despite the verbal limitations of his two narrators, Vilmure manages to convey, vividly and viscerally, the complex emotions--the confusion, anger, frustration, and rage--felt by his characters. The transmission of these feelings is so direct that one hardly notices the intermediary role that literary technique plays. Only upon rereading does one fully appreciate how skillfully this talented young writer weaves recurring images, motifs, and complex psychological states into one seamless whole.

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