You'll either be dazzled by the virtuosity of this first novel (a Harper-Saxton Award winner) or frazzled by its mannerisms--but its energies are in any ease remarkable and impressively sustained. The three grown Bard brothers--Will, 35; Neal, 37; Howard, 41--are unlike each other except for the contiguities of family knowledge. Whenever they get together, in pairs or a trio, they are just about guaranteed to miss each other's sense--though helplessly aware of one another's pain. Howard, the stuffiest of the three and the book's narrator (though this narrative voice is far too supple to really be Howard's), is the crossword-puzzle editor of a New York newspaper. Joking-bachelor Neal is a lawyer in the college town of Northhampton, Mass., where college-teacher Will also lives--he's currently wallowing in the confusion attendant to his wife and daughter leaving him. And for his fiction debut, Chowder just takes these three and turns them loose: alone and together they perform the Seventies pay-as-you-go rituals that Ann Beattie's educated, adrift characters have made familiar; like Beattie, Chowder is a suave mimicker of brittle, self-conscious talk. But now and again, when his high-geared sensibility simmers down, Chowder can also write a very beautiful, moving paragraph and follow it with a desolating truth. A scattered, often fey book (with brilliant drunk scenes, as such books often have) that sometimes trips over its glossy self; nonetheless--talented work sure to command serious attention.