Rebel Powers

by Richard Bausch. Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, $21.95. Mr. Rausch’s admirable novel describes the disintegration of a family as it is recalled, years later, by the son. Thomas, the narrator, was a teenager when the seemingly solid world of the Boudreauxs dissolved with his father’s discharge from the Air Force and sentence to a prison term. The bewildered youth, his confused kid sister, and their enigmatic mother bounce from a ramshackle rented place to a boardinghouse in Wilson Creek, Wyoming, site of the federal prison. They meet strange people on the road and in Wyoming, never feeling at ease with anyone, even those who assume that Boudreaux senior was jailed for opposition to the Vietnam War. That war and its aftereffects are a major cause of their troubles. The other cause is the inflexible temperament of Tom’s mother, a woman who cannot adapt to any alteration in her chosen course of action. The novel moves slowly because the author gives careful attention to each point and character—to the waiflsh young woman met on the train west; to Mrs. Wilson, whose desire to keep a quietly respectable boardinghouse is thwarted by pornography and the Boudreaux family reunion; and to the wavering comprehensions of young Thomas. The leisurely pace of the narrative permits a thorough, always interesting study of the distortion inflicted on ordinary people by the conflicting pressures of circumstance and character.