A spooky but emotionally numb first novel about a young woman's subconscious search for self, by short-story writer Nugent (City of Boys, 1992). The setting here hints at drama: Unsexy young Catherine, who's dropped out of a girls' religious college, is selling tickets in a run-down porno emporium owned by a supposed wife killer named Dave, in a dying northeastern city. But nothing happens: Catherine spends her long night shifts mooning over her mysteriously pale and bleak Ohio childhood and cutting out magazine pictures of pets to add color to her desperately empty life now. After work each midnight, she wanders down to the Hygenic Diner to watch the junkies and whores gather, and here she meets Jerome, a black anorexic transvestite queen whom the publisher's publicity copy characterizes as her best friend but who seems as indifferent or even hostile to her as everyone else in the book. Meanwhile, her boss Dave--who turns out to be a mild-mannered and fatherly figure who's proud to have a ``college girl'' working for him--fixes Catherine up with his nephew, Danny. But Catherine has other plans: She steals Danny's car, kidnaps a dying cat named Debby from another transient in her hotel, coaxes Jerome into the car, and drives to Florida, where she once visited her grandparents. End of story, except for the many grim flashbacks Catherine has of living with her handicapped and vicious younger sister, who was insanely jealous of anything Catherine ever had--which was very little-- until she accidentally set herself on fire and died, while their parents continued to watch TV. ``Live girls'' is what Dave's porno theater is said to need to spruce up trade; the same can be said for the novel.