Leave It To Beaver meets Wings of the Dove: that's the bizarre, off-putting effect of this striving first novel, which uses a tiny event from middle-American suburbia as the inappropriate springboard for spiraling, Jamesian sentences and pompously dismissive social observation. Boy Scout Troop 431, from suburban Waynesboro, New Jersey, goes down to Sandy Hook for a mini-jamboree, a gathering of the local troops. A few of the fathers are with them--a young English stepfather named Ian Davies, as well as four other dads, more American and predictable. Along the way, the scout-sons of these men have some very localized misadventures: stealing off and getting drunk--and beaten up--at a nearby beach; getting into trouble in a deserted WW II bunker. And, after these foul-ups are capped by a little Oedipal rough-and-tumble with the dads, it's all finished off with a campfire, a group sing, and starlight above the tenttops. This wisp of story hardly asks for novel-length treatment--but novice Upchurch clearly expects to solve that problem by inflating his narrative with a book-ful of blimpish sentences. Like this one, for instance: ""Instead he looked into the air and he was like a squirrel or a cat or bug, vacantly staring, unconsciously thinking of its own natural function, while trucks and cars and boys passed back and forth across his field of vision in paths much less symmetrical and much more like the elaborate and restricting trails which ants, in their freedom, invent for themselves than Mr. Gough could ever imagine."" And such slip-and-slide locutions are unpleasantly compounded by Upchurch's unmasked distaste--channeled through Ian and his stepson--for his characters and their vulgar American male-bonding rituals. An unnecessarily snide book--it's certainly possible to write sharply about middle-American tribal rites without lapsing into snotty disdain (a recent example: William Hogan's The Quartzsite Trip)--and one that never lives up to the splendid aspirations of its prose.