Nothing life-affirming here--this prize-winning Australian first novel, straightforward and effective, immerses us in the drugs, sex, and general ennui of slackers Down Under. Young Gordon, having just quit his latest undemanding liquor- store job, has no ambitions beyond getting on the dole when he receives a call from--and starts an affair with--recently laid-off co-worker Cynthia. Though attractive to women (because, he says, having ``no particular life or commitments of my own, I was never going to threaten the life or commitments of anyone else''), he's unenthusiastic about sex; Cynthia, emotionally crippled in her own way, lives for it, impersonal or otherwise. Each also physically handicapped--he by life-threatening asthma, she by a skin-disease so acute that even gentle contact causes bleeding--they spend the next few months together, consuming drugs, having sex, coping with pregnancy, abortion, and venereal warts. Meanwhile, Gordon displays remarkable integrity avoiding commitment (``I preferred sausages, or pasta, or Chinese. Things you didn't have to chew''), splitting with Cynthia when love blooms--an integrity paralleled in long, frank, graphic depictions of distinctly untitillating sex: scenes that, despite their excess, are the opposite of exploitative. With Cynthia gone, Gordon commences an unsatisfying liaison with an old flame; lands in the hospital; and, told by the doctors to quit smoking or die, chooses the latter. A bestseller in Australia, but without the superficial glamour of a Less Than Zero (to which its US publishers would like it compared). Unlikely to achieve the same success here, but, still, a bold novel, distinct voice, and impressive debut.