Krawiec once again plumbs the depths of despair among America's down-and-out in this gritty, powerful second novel. The battered drifters at the heart of his first book (Time Sharing, 1985) have been replaced by a hard-working husband and wife reduced to poverty by a series of calamities. The pair's eldest daughter, Katie, struck down by a mysterious neurological disorder at the age of six, is comatose and requires constant care. Although she is now nearing adolescence, Pat and Timmy have resisted institutionalizing her. The other families in their working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood shun Ellen, the younger daughter, fearful that Katie's illness is contagious. Timmy, out of work for a year, is desperate, angry, afraid. When he stages a mild demonstration at the unemployment office, a vindictive bureaucrat cuts off his benefits. Meanwhile, Pat, certain that she is in some way responsible for Katie's illness, consumed by guilt and by a desperate need to heal Katie, is sinking deeper and deeper into an incoherent anger that her family cannot penetrate. Krawiec describes these lives with sympathy but without condescension, re-creating their spare, often profane speech without making it seem either artificial or repellent. And he doesn't project extraordinary virtue onto his characters: They are well-meaning, often resourceful, frequently finding relief in bawdy humor, but they are also capable of meanness and deceit. The novel's sting, though, is lessened by a piling-on of horrors--so much happens to Timmy and Pat that the plot begins to feel repetitive and contrived. And a subplot about Timmy's involvement in a bungled attempt to kidnap the city's tough-talking mayor is jarring and unpersuasive. Still, Timmy, Pat, and Ellen are so vivid that they survive these lapses, and the modest, hard-won victories that provide the climax of this angry, exact, robust novel feel both believable and just.