Impressively talented newcomer Blair charts a Vietnam vet's slow (not always steady) transition from a no-strings life to the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. Ray McCreary, carpenter and housebuilder, doesn't like taking orders from a boss, but he seems equally unable to take responsibility for starting his own operation. There have been plenty of women and lots of booze, though he's avoided alcoholism and troublesome entanglements. He does maintain intense ties to two people from the past: his first girlfriend, who now has cancer, and his reckless Vietnam buddy, Bullet. At age 40, Ray falls in love and wonders whether it's time to become an adult. Exemplary, self-sufficient Vivian knows enough to let Ray do his panicky fear-of-commitment dance but also knows where to set limits. Gradually, tentatively, and mostly happily, Ray settles down and breaks away from the more destructive imperatives of male-bonding loyalty. Although the novel jumps around in time, the pace is leisurely as Blair's precise, often poetic prose focuses now on a storm at sea, now on a pig-roast, now on the conversation in a barbecue joint. Ray's sympathetic if idealized psychological portrait rings mostly true, though Vivian's characterization is more problematic: after leaving her husband (perfectly nice, but he didn't talk much) and her children in order to be alone and paint, she quickly finds fulfillment bearing the baby of uncommunicative Ray. An inspired, optimistic, and quietly lyrical first novel that gently probes the male psyche.