Is a character's charm--or an author's tone--enough to bring a serious book across? Novelist Nova apparently thinks so, putting all his bets here on a character named Stargell, an ex-think-tank inventor now down on his luck and subscribing to the ""car-crash theory of life: take as much as you can head on and pray you walk away from it."" He drives a cab, but what money he takes in isn't nearly enough to satisfy Enid, his Greek-born, depressive wife, who divides her time between sleeping, drinking beer, and warning Stargell: ""Don't you be bad to me."" When Enid's entrepreneur father arrives for a visit, Stargell, wanting to put on a good face, borrows a grand from the local loan shark and then has to scramble to find ways of paying it back--plus interest. His solution? He opens a fake checking account on the strength of someone else's identification left in his cab, rents an expensive apartment, then sublets it to ten different people--a typical go-for-broke, damn-the-torpedoes move celebrating the ""incandescence"" of actions pushed inside out. This slender plot, though, is secondary to the sigh-and-bear it way Stargell looks at reality: ""The phone booth smells like a dump, like small-time crime."" Stargell's charm is that there's some humor even to his most bleak forays, but the effect is strictly funky-cute, growing fairly wearisome very quickly, especially when Nova piles on the pathos--a dying father and shopping-bag ladies. Talented work, but a disappointment from a writer who has (The Geek, 1975) done much better.