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Frank is in jail, having confessed to setting an explosive fire that has taken five lives. Certain that the confession was coerced, Charles launches his own investigation. As he allows himself to be drawn further into Estrella de Mar's dark underworld, this explosive novel accelerates toward a disturbing climax.
Things become clearer as Charles makes the acquaintance of local tennis pro Bobby Crawford, who has some interesting hypotheses about how to maintain the quality of the inner life in the age of affluence. As another of the locals explains, "Leisure societies lie ahead of us, like those you see on this coast. People ... will retire in their late thirties, with fifty years of idleness in front of them.... But how do you energize people, give them some sense of community?" Bobby's succinct answer, provided to Charles in another context: "There's nothing like a violent reflex now and then to tune up the nervous system." Bobby convinces Charles to help him replicate his social experiment in an adjacent retirement community, slowly convincing him that crime and creativity really do go hand in hand. But who, if anybody, takes the responsibility?
Cocaine Nights resonates quite neatly with Ballard's earlier science fiction and experimental stories. As early as The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard was speculating about the salubrious effects of transgression, and his science fiction novel High Rise also deals with the introduction of violence to a self-contained paradise. Cocaine Nights differs from that earlier work primarily in that it is a naturalistic fiction set in a world that is much more ostensibly real, a world that, with a little less detached theorizing (even at his most natural, it seems, Ballard cannot help but be clinical) on the part of its characters, might even be mistaken for real. --Ron Hogan
Ballard, J. G.
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