When Davis writes about adolescents, he has a capacity for emotional probing which stirs the reader with a sense of authenticity and sincerity. This was true of The Newcomer, of the earlier Jeremy Bell, of his delightful anthology, The Eyes of Boyhood. But this time he has chosen to tell a tale of a railroad agent, a telegrapher on night duty in a small Missouri town, a good man, devoted to his wife and children, convinced that one of his sparetime inventions would pay off, conscientious to a fault. So when a bit of carelessness almost resulted in a railroad wreck, Paul's world crashed. Blackballed on any railroad, he went off to Kansas City to hunt a telegrapher's job-and the main part of this story concerns itself with his spiralling downward to lost identity in a hospital, ill unto death with double pneumonia -- his funds at rock bottom, his earnings a pittance as a press operator, his hopes of getting a telegrapher's job dimming as he tries to master a code he had never known and a typewriter he had never needed to use. Strangely at no moment in the book does this pitiful tale touch the reader's emotions -- nor does there emerge anything more than a shadowy sense of reality in Paul's saga. Where one should care profoundly about the tragedy of mediocrity, one reads with a sense of unreality and- let's confess it- indifference.