Christopher Ransom, disillusioned son of a successful television producer, heads east after college in search of adventure and meaning. His initial quest ends in tragedy on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan as he loses his innocence and two close friends.
In Kyoto, he takes up karate as a means of imposing some order on his chaotic life. He also unwillingly assumes the role of moral guide for his friends, most of whom are exiles like himself.
Instead of finding peace within himself, however, Ransom becomes even more disillusioned. His chivalrous efforts to aid a somewhat soiled maiden in distress turn out to be another of his father’s cheap productions, and the teacher of karate whom he admires humiliates a fellow student.
In his previous novel, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY, a satiric look at a moral innocent adrift in Manhattan, Jay McInerney took as his model J. D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. This time, his inspiration seems to be a less obviously satiric treatment of the chaotic lives of expatriates such as those in Ernest Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES.
The novel works best when it satirizes the desperate, pathetic attempts of the Japanese to become Americanized, especially in the scenes depicting Ransom’s efforts to teach English to young business executives in Osaka, and the equally absurd efforts of Americans to become samurai.
The novel fails at other times because Ransom and his creator take his problems too seriously. The satiric and solemn halves of the novel do not blend as they should.