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STRANGE FARAWAY PLACE

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Toss the Mormon Church into a blender with a health-crazed matriarchal cult and you get something like the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles. Isolated in the hinterlands of Montana, this 147-year-old sect now finds itself devitalized. "We needed new blood," explains Mason Plato LaVerle, the narrator of Walter Kirn's intensely amusing, if overextended new novel, Mission to America.

Thus, two of the AFA's most able-bodied, if not disciplined, young men embark on a quest to Terrestria (aka America). Not long after crossing the state line, however, Mason deflowers a 15-year-old Wiccan while his partner, Elias Stark, begins tweaking on meth. Without really intending to, these apostles make up for lost time indulging in everything that anchoritic upbringings denied them: reality TV, espresso and the graces of the rich and dysfunctional. The pair soon find their way to an Aspenish retreat, where they hope to convert the cultural elite. In short order, however, Mason falls for an ex-Internet porn star while Elias has become the lackey of an elderly tycoon with digestive issues.

Mission to America packs a lot into its 288 pages. It's a road trip, a coming-of-age narrative and a general skewering of American dislocation and decadence from an insider's outside perspective. Kirn has produced one of those novels where stuff seems to happen – bam! – and then more, and then new characters appear 50 pages before the end and, um, where's our companion guide?

Thankfully, Kirn's dialogue is fabulous, as is his disciplined use of folk mythology, which renders the AFA's bizarre ideology both mysterious and viable. Or rather enough to sustain Mason's tribe for a century and a half, but not to keep him safe from the allure of being confused in America.

Mission To America
By Walter Kirn

(Doubleday, 288 pages)

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