Novelist Nelson (The Pull, 1986, etc.) makes a book-length audit of his own star-crossed life for the “keepers”—the things that have lasting meaning. Nelson’s publisher cites Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes as a precursor to the present book, and Nelson’s effort does have some of the same offbeat appeal, sharing with Exley’s memoir a rueful quest for male self-knowledge. Nelson opens gloomily with the confessional description of assisting his aged and infirm mother’s suicide in the early 1990s, but the time and place soon switch to Dallas in the ’70s, and what he calls a turning point in his life. A successful but unfulfilled ad man producing sales films and “stupid TV commercials” and drinking too much, by 1970 Nelson had begun “to see the kind of business I was in and it wasn’t me.” He was having trouble loving Tracy, his beautiful and hypersexual wife, who on one occasion held a loaded gun to his head, and on another sprayed bullets around the apartment. He looks back as well to the abduction and murder of his son, an event which left him “weighted with a sense of loss.” And from there he ranges back to his hard childhood and restless young adulthood in the dust bowl town of Dalton, Tex., where an achingly adolescent Nelson used the savings from his job as a gas-station attendant to buy an old car and—literally—a date with Darlene, the most beautiful girl in school. His fiction, Nelson observes, helped him to come to grips with his troubles. This memoir, clearly, also has a therapeutic value, as he directly confronts the losses that have driven his fiction and his life. A painful, darkly comic story, plainly told and leavened throughout with playful humility.