Fly down to Mexico, look out the window, southern Cal looks like a river of mustard gas. Maybe this is why Kem Nunn has a protagonist in Pomona Queen who sells "air purifiers", vacuum cleaners that operate on an air-exchange principle. So somewhere in here lies a metaphor that explores the poisoned society of a white trash culture strung out on Buds, Bogarts and battery.
The P.O.V. is supplied by a wounded love culture graduate called Earl Dean, once known as "Johnny Magic" when he was a hippy band vocalist with a redhead fox violinist as a girlfriend. But the girlfriend is now dead, Dean is now struggling to regain his family orchard by hustling "Cyclone" purifiers, and the crack cocaine consciousness of speed metal has replaced the free love delusion of country rock.
And who is his nemisis? The bad ass substance abuser Danny Brown, a cop killer who leads a trio of bikers...altho' the only instruments they play are knives, guns and bottles. Check out some of the cast: "Ardath", "The Stench", "Fall Down Debbie", "Engineer Bill", "The Pomona Queen", the latter variously representing Dean's lost love, lost land, and nearly his lost life.
"The Pomona Queen" is initially a dark-haired vixen on a peach crate label, all that remains of Dean's lost heritage. "The two (label and girl) existed for him in some complex arrangement of inner harmonies, hieroglyphs in an existential code." Or, more viscerally: "She was the Mona Lisa of the Pomona Valley."
Contrast this against that beastial clown, Danny Brown: "He was like the rat, adaptable, clever, impossible to eradicate." Nunn's characterization of this quintessential of all contemporary outlaws, the American biker, is brilliant. Homicidal, profane, an architect of violence who is, after all, a "family" man.
How does Dean become a hostage in this psycho fantasy? Pure chance. He's called to the biker house by Diana, the nubile flower selling daughter, who wants the free gift given to the prospective customers of the Cyclone, to find the naked body of Buddy -- Dan's brother -- dead "on ice" in a red Coca Cola cooler. Danny recognizes Dean as "Johnny Magic", decides that Magic will sing over his murdered brother's grave...and Danny doesn't take "no" for an answer.
Who killed Buddy? Therein lies the story, the plot, the action. There are a number of very funny incidents as Dean tries to escape this nightmare, yet finds himself rejoining the madness due to some quasi-conscious rationale linked to his sense of failure and the desire to succeed. The writing is often outstanding in its grasp of idiom and the the dramatization of the absurd circumstances that life sometimes presents. Perhaps Nunn sidebars a little too often into flashbacks, local history, character bios and the like, but you can just glissando over these chunks if the lead gets too dense on the page. Mind you, the "history" is essential to the theme, and the novel would just be another adventure in the criminal history of mankind without it.
If you think Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood are good writers, forget this one. The only poetry here is the poetry of scatology, the only manners the manners of violence.