At its bleeding heart, this book is a Dickensian adoption novel -- it's about two Mexican-born brothers, Evan and Chano, who have never met. Evan was adopted by English parents, went to Cambridge and is now a high-level corporate flack; Chano was raised by Mexican relatives and now makes beer in a shack in northeastern Mexico. Both men are desperately looking for something. Evan has discovered he has leukemia and needs to find Chano for a blood and bone marrow transfusion. Chano is searching for his own son, Daniel, who was also given up for adoption and believes Chano is dead.
Evan ultimately leaves London to look for his brother in Mexico, but Chano can't be found -- he's a bumbling eco-terrorist on the lam after a halfhearted attempt to sabotage a toxic waste plant that was polluting the groundwater in his town. Chano is as jumpy and conflicted as a character in a T. C. Boyle novel, and his usually mushy politics come in for almost as much fire as Evan's. Chano is one of those guys, another character observes, who always shy away from recommending direct action while managing to ''sound more revolutionary than everybody else in the process.''
To spend time with Evan is to get a master class in how P.R. guys deploy their resources, from how to ruin an opponent's book tour to why certain kinds of advertisements are more important than others. You know those enormous, full-color, nonspecific corporate ads that you sometimes see in magazines and newspapers, the ones with the company's name under, say, a photograph of a leopard beside a waterfall? Here's Evan's take on producing one of those: ''It's not for the readers, it's for the owners. The message says We are your largest advertisers. We giveth and we taketh away. And that's all. The more profligate you are with the space the stronger that message comes across. . . . Anything to take up a double page.''