Barthelme's basic fictional motion is the sidle, his disaffected people of the modern plasti-South forever finding themselves together and apart for no definable reason. At its best, this torpor has a barometric effectiveness; at its worst, it's pure mannerism. But here at least, to his credit, Barthelme tries to do something else. Peter is a 40-ish man who's had it up to here: everything rubs him the wrong way, he's got a grudge against just about everything in the world. Naturally the members of his family--wife Lily and son Charles--get it most in the neck; and Peter finally decides to move out and let all three of them have some kind of peace. He moves into a rented tract house. He takes a business trip that involves a brief liaison, but then returns and is semi-happy as Lily diffidently reenters his days. The sidle, in other words, just won't be denied--as much as Barthelme wants Peter to be a character we can move quickly with by force of rage, rage is quickly washed away. As a father and a husband, even a down. in-the-dumps one, he's utterly non-credible; and the individual melancholy also seems a little out of tune: too crispy and straining to be smart ("" 'Village People Syndrome,' I said. 'There was a piece in JAMA. I figure it's a personal statement, kind of""I am pubic hair, hear me roar"" ' ""). Other characters, making brief walk-ons, are also no more than sums of the cleverly morose remarks they mouth. To end a book whose only animation has been the tides of pale drab moods, Barthelme resorts to melodramas of the most desperate sort: a car crash. Energyless and affected--a disappointment.