Although neither as skilled nor sharp-toothed as the last H.M. Literary Fellowship Award novel, Cullinan's House of Gold, this tale about a young Irish-American ad man's feverish adjustments ticks off its prey and takes its stance with wit and a desperate bravado. The author has a way with domestic interiors--for example, the backwater shoddiness of fading frame houses (the dust covered refrigerator top; the ironing board perennially up) in the Somerville, Mass., home base of John (Fitzie) Fitzpatrick. After an inconclusive dry run in the Army and marriage to Janice, Fitzie felt it was time to find ""some kind of machine. . . that popped out full boxes of something good at the other end""--like the popsicle dynamo in the factory he triumphantly supervised during college summers. And he does find it in a rapid rise in New York's advertising business where pressing the right levers brings forth fun-filled days and a house in Mamaroneck. But the nights--with Janice withdrawing in a suburban funk--seem to thrum drearily along to a beat he ""couldn't seem to catch."" The daytime, game-playing Fitzie seems to have split from the wounded, increasingly skeptical searcher who had some humiliation and loneliness to hide. A disastrous birthday party and the death of his mother (whom he couldn't really remember) bring him to grips with buried animosities in the Church/school/home aridity of Somerville and a reconciliation with Janice, one love in a ""lousy world."" A likable soft shoe through the Wasteland--kicking sand all the way.