Extended meanderings through the thickets of pleasure and regret, without a convincing summing up. The protagonist of newcomer Larson's novel is Joe Stoyanovich, who could well be described as a case of arrested development. A writer of children's books, he dabbles in historical scholarship and political activism and hangs out with a circle of friends whose exceedingly meager careers serve in some sense to magnify his own. The son of old-style leftists, named after Stalin and raised to revere Khrnshchev, he finds himself unable to forgive his father for abandoning his mother to marry a much younger woman--while his father, in turn, resents Joe for his role in the accidental death of his younger brother. Joe himself is going through several more contemporary traumas, not the least of which is the abortion that his girlfriend has just told him about (after the fact). His biggest concern, however, is the sexual abuse charge that a local 13-year-old has filed against him. Felice, the girl in question, recants her in-court testimony at the last minute, but not before Joe finds himself thoroughly tarred in public as a pedophile. Although his reactions and concerns regarding the trial make up much of his story, there is a strange distance in his musings that suggests something other than stoicism, and this general lack of passion seems to inform the work throughout: ""In the final analysis, the fact that I never meant to touch Felice inappropriately, or that I may not have caused my brother's death are trivial considerations."" Whether Joe is traumatized, cold-blooded, or emotionally retarded in some other, unexplained, way does not finally matter, of course. What is frustrating is how his profound uncertainty about the importance of his life quickly permeates the story and infects the reader. Competently written but thoroughly flat and ultimately annoying.