Angry Aleut, and Greer the VikingrnRastafarian (“I be a Viking from Bimini,rnby yumpin’ yiminy”). But Sailor Songrneludes pure anachronism by tacklingrnmatters of immediate concern. Set in arnsmall Alaska town called Kuniak at thernturn of the next millennium amongrnforests “choked by thick air, cooked andrnconfused by the Anarchy of the Age,” itrnraises the green flag of ecology at everyrnturn. The earth then is in even sorrierrnshape than it is today. “From Alaskarnthere’s no place left to go,” its protagonistrnnotes. “There was Brazil, but theyrncut it down to pay their Third Worldrndebt to the First and Second, who fed itrnto McDonald’s. Over ten zillion sold.”rn”They,” of course, are the shadowyrncaptains of industry and government,rncartoon figures where they enter at allrnin Kesey’s narrative. They appear largelyrnin the corpulent form of a SydneyrnGreenstreet-like Hollywood tycoonrncalled Gerhardt Steubins, whose productionrncompany invades unsuspectingrnKuniak to film an extravaganza calledrnThe Seal—in real life a children’s storyrnKesey published not long ago—completernwith sex, violence, high-tech specialrneffects, and a legion of sea mammals.rnThe story might have benefitedrnfrom sporting a more believable villain,rnbut Kesey is after all a Prankster.rnIke Sallas, Kesey’s hero, does not takernkindly to the invading let’s-do-lunchrnhorde from the South. “A decoratedrnveteran railing against the same flag thatrnhad awarded him the Navy Cross,” hernhas emigrated to the Alaskan woods tornstake out a bit of fin-de-siecle paradisernand is prepared to go to war to protect it.rnThe movie industry has ruined morernthan one town, he reasons, and Kuniakrnis ripe for the plucking. Never mind thatrnit seems to have been plucked enoughrnalready. Kesey portrays the town asrnsomething of a countercultural Disneyland,rnfull of rock bands, skyplanes thatrnspell out the name of Japanese commodities,rna rising generation of carefreernyouth “nimble as lizards in their blackrnleather briefs,” and all the requisiterndrugs.rnYou would think a dose of Hollywoodrnwould be mere icing on the cake forrnsuch a place, and Sallas even catchesrnhimself thinking that “maybe they wererngoing to cut the whole town in on thernaction, make everybody rich and famous.”rnMovie types call this a continuityrnproblem; for maximum effect, Kuniakrnreally ought to be an unspoiledrnEden, like the Scottish village in BillrnForsyth’s film Local Hero. Whateverrnthe case, Sallas takes up a monkeywrenchrn—his Backatcha Movement isrnclearly modeled on the real-life EarthrnFirst! eeosabotage cause—and sets outrnto save Kuniak from itself. (Naturallyrnenough, everything is done by committeernin his politically correct time, butrnIke is a lone wolf.) He does so by temporarilyrnremoving mogul Gerhardt Steubinsrnfrom the scene, unaware that a legionrnof assistant directors and wardrobernspecialists and focus-pullers will roll rightrnalong without the boss, determined torncome in on schedule and under budget.rnThe plot of Sailor Song lends itselfrneverywhere to slapstick and buffooneryrn(imagine the result if Kurt Vonnegutrnhad taken it on), but Kesey mostly steersrnclear of cheap tricks even when strivingrnfor laughs. To be sure, he tosses offrnplenty of “in” jokes: Nicholas Levertov,rnSteubins’ chief toady, and a singularlyrnunctuous one at that, shares his namernwith Beat poet Denise Levertov (why isrnanyone’s guess); assistant directorrnLeonard Smalls is the namesake of thernbiker villain of Joel and Ethan Coen’srncult film Raising Arizona; and the villagernpriest. Father Pribilof, takes his surnamernfrom that of the great Russian explorerrnof Alaska, Gerasim Pribilof. Keseyrnindulges himself in all this, and it seemsrna wasted enterprise.rnIn the end good prevails, as in all ofrnKesey’s works. But it wins out in a wayrnjust twisted enough to keep the readerrnentangled. The novel is candy, not solidrnsustenance. Still, Kesey is incapable ofrnwriting a bad sentence, and a little candyrnbetween meals won’t kill you.rnOn August 5, 1949, lightning camerncrashing down in the vast sprucernforest above Seeley Lake, Montana,rntouching off a roaring blaze. Now everyrnWesterner knows that lightning meansrnfire, but the fire that raged throughrnMann Gulch, Montana, that morningrnwas unlike most others. For one, it grewrnhuge, the sort of conflagration that occursrnonly every few decades. For another,rna battery of paratrooper-firefighters,rnmany of them fresh veterans of the SecondrnWorld War, had been anticipatingrnit. They thrived on fire, on the thrill ofrnconfronting and extinguishing it, and asrnthey sprang into action they bore theirrnpride openly, as crack soldiers will. Beforernthe day ended, 13 of these “smokejumpers”rnlay dead, their charred remainsrnevidence that something had gone terriblyrnwrong.rnMontana-bred Norman Maclean, therncelebrated author of A River RunsrnThrough It—recently made into a filmrnunder the direction of Robert Redford—rnsaw his share of fires as a teenager, whenrnhe battled in place of men sent off tornEurope during World War I. Whenrnnews of the Mann Gulch fire and its terriblerntoll spread across the nation,rnMaclean was teaching English literaturernat the University of Chicago, well embarkedrnupon a career as one of the foremostrnShakespearean scholars of his day.rnThe tragedy haunted him, and when hernretired from teaching in 1973 he turnedrnto his yellowing files and fading memoriesrnand sat down to write the story thatrnwould become Young Men and Fire. Hisrninitial thoughts lay in the horror of dyingrnby fire. At the beginning of his tale herndwells at length on that horror, and thernresult is not reading for the squeamish:rnAs a fire on a hillside closes in, everythingrnbecomes a mode of exhaustionrn—fear, thirst, terror, arntwitch in the flesh that still has arnpreference to live, all become simplernexhaustion. So upon closerrnexamination, burning to death onrna mountainside is dying at leastrnthree times . . . first, considerablyrnahead of the fire, you reach thernverge of death in your boots andrnyour legs; next, as you fail, yournsink back in the region of strangerngases and red and blue dartsrnwhere there is no oxygen and herernyou die in your lungs; then yournsink in prayer into the main firernthat consumes.rnThe young men died, Maclean argues,rnfor a number of reasons, none defensible.rnFirst, the “escape fire”—arncounterblaze that turns an approachingrnfire to one side or another—that theirrnsupervisor ordered them to build was ineffective.rnSecond, explaining the Brst,rnthe smokejumpers had received onlyrnthree weeks of training under the tutelagernof the United States Forest Service.rnThird, and most damning, bureaucraticrninfighting and ineptitude led to manyrninstances of miscommunication: wherernthe firefighters should have approachedrnthe fire by a side canyon, they were orderedrnto advance straight up a hillsidernleading to Mann Gulch. The fire racingrndownhill caught them before they couldrn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn