The novel as oral biography: the playfully ambitious life story of an erratic, extravagantly gifted artist recounted by his equally fictional colleagues, friends, and lovers. Eton Arthur Boone bursts on the entertainment scene in 1967, at the New York comedy cabaret Jes' for Laughs, the same month his widowed father Joe marries hated Anne Richman. Boone's ""exposures""--his long impressions of celebrities from Richard Burton to J. Edgar Hoover--soon make him famous, but he leaves the club after an especially cruel exposure of old-guard comic Bert Niemann makes Niemann stab himself on-stage, Boone then embarks on a career that includes writing Heiligenstadt, a movie based on the life of Beethoven; Studies, a play about his adored mother Blue's liaison with fellow painter Levi Mottl; ""Chess Pieces,"" a set of stories, one of which (""The Story of the Lovely Pawn"") is included; and the posthumous Ruth, a memoir of the mother to whom, in the end, his whole life is dedicated. This litany of successes is enlivened by a catalogue of lovers: long-suffering Amalie Hindemuth; redheaded model Erin Hirt; Studies lead Katherine Odeon; and Boone's stepbrother, Hilary Richman, whom he uses to get back at his father. The chorus of dozens of(mostly admiring) voices and Boone's own protean nature (""Is he Lenny Bruce? Is he Orson Welles? Or maybe now he's going to be the second coming of Lewis Carroll,"" wonders enraptured academic mentor Hugh Gardiner, not yet betrayed by Boone's rejection) keep this tormented prodigy remote from all but the most dedicated fans of pop iconography. High-concept fiction that really does read like a certain kind of nonfiction: just as unselective, journalistic, and ultimately unsatisfying as tree-life devotional exposÃ‰s.