Ghetto melodrama, passionately naturalistic but undeveloped. Sam Auer spends his not very nice days in a changed neighborhood of Philadelphia, circa 1952. He has moved his family out to a better area, but he still runs the luncheonette/grocery that was his parents' before him. His windows are being repeatedly broken, and he knows who-dun-it: a family of mean no-goods getting back at Sam for having slapped the arm of one of the kids whom he caught filching candy. Foregoing windows altogether, Sam has the storefront boarded up, takes to spending nights in the store on the look-out for trouble, and soon becomes known as ""bad-ass Sam, the gun-and-knife man."" Time goes by. Sam makes the store a fortress--and gives up at the same time all his middle-classness: the ghetto becomes his world completely. His family dumps him, he dumps them (won't attend his mother's funeral); his descent seems complete when a black prostitute, Peggy, moves into the little room at the back of the store with him. When a numbers ring wants Sam to run a book, he agrees; the guys in suits put up windows again and see that they're not broken. Having bellied out, Sam seems on the upswing, only in a totally new sociological context. Packer (Caro) lingers lovingly over every grundgy detail of the ghetto life: the textures are rough, proletarian, and Zola-esque. But when it dawns on you--and it will--that the bush it beats around bears no fruit, only monochrome leaves of the same predictable size all the way through, Packer's novel leaves you feeling that it got caught in the mean streets and never had a real destination.