Napped in thick coastal Virginia dialect, poet Smith's first novel focuses on the character of Billy Luke Tomson, here called ""The Grip"" (for his shotputting abilities developed in the Army). Impossibly tall and gangly and strong, The Grip is taken in, after discharge, by 70-year-old Tom Zucold, owner of Bowie's Garage--a country affair that fixes up old cars (""processees"" is what Zucold calls them) or sometimes just collects unfixable ones. But Bowie's Garage is threatened with extinction by a planned shopping center that's owned by powerful local interests. Is this the end of Bowie's? Well, Tom assures The Grip that sufficient money will show up to forestall the takeover--just as soon as a pool hustler named the Carolina Kid arrives in town. When the Kid does show up, however, he's drunk and a loser--so there are finally no winnings. Smith takes some detours from this story-line: there's a whore with a hook for a hand and her own bus, called ""The Confessional""; and there's a rich flighty heiress named Promise Land whom The Grip falls in love with. But events basically march straight to an apocalyptic, military-like defense of the garage (""One minute they were all alive, trying hard to survive the rising tide of craziness, and the next minute it had killed them or hurt them or left them just trying to know for sure it wasn't a nightmare""). And along the way Smith indulges in a few spongey homiletics: ""They were freaks for the same reason that he was, that everybody was, because they stood utterly alone in the world and couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. . . ."" Unripened work, then, reminiscent of--but not up to par with--early Harry Crews.