The Autograph Hound, critic John Lahr's coruscating first novel, begins with some seemingly innocent if inspired foolishness about Benny Walsh, a bus boy at a New York restaurant where he's not missed a day for eight years (""running ahead of Hello Dolly""). He's also been collecting celebrity autographs. ""Their signature is so them."" Joe Namath, Joan Crawford, Ruby Keeler, Fred Astaire, Judy, Rudy, you name it -- he knows them all -- vehicles, performances, hit tunes, batting averages. He's the ""Motown of signatures"" -- his mind more fully cross-indexed than the Almanac. When Benny is first seen with Gloria, a five-year-would-be-actress and acolyte, there are nice soft-shoe routines all around the town from Sardi's to the Garden, from the Fillmore to a Broadway penny arcade. But following Benny becomes more and more precarious: he's trying to raise some money to secure a job in a classier *** restaurant; he's admitting himself to a hospital donating his body for the cash (""Dean Martin can have first dibs on my liver""); he's trailing LBJ to the Waldorf to get a more historic John Hancock which seems to have been written in invisible ink; he's attending Judy Garland's funeral at Frank Campbell's; he's. . . over another rainbow into the dark night of obsession. . . . Even if rougher comparisons suggest themselves (Stanley Elkin's Dick Gibson Show, Paul Brodeur's Stunt Man) John Lahr's signature is his own -- all talent -- and this is an affectionate, sad, mad, funny book with startling elan.