Bowman's picaresque first novel, winner of the publisher's 1992 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers, follows the wildly unlikely love affair of the hitchhiking young son of a TV evangelist with a middle-aged Detroit housewife: playful if insubstantial fare in the Tom Robbins tradition. It's the mid-70's and 18-year-old Bud Salem--a weak-chinned boy whose obese mother leads prayer sessions on TV, whose dead father was a Hollywood private eye, and whose major talent is his ability to read hard-boiled detective novels while driving--takes his hitching thumb to the highway in an attempt to escape his horrific California past. He's soon picked up by another lost soul on the lam: Sylvia Cushman, the fast-talking, red-haired wife of an auto-specialist who regularly abandons her home in Detroit to go on unrestrained cross-country driving sprees. An Emily Dickinson freak who likes to dress in 40's evening wear and pitch oranges out her car window, Sylvia takes Bud on the ride of his sheltered life before abruptly dumping him outside of Toledo when it's time to go home. Forsaken but not helpless, Bud tracks Sylvia down in the suburbs of Detroit--only to find that her life is devoted all too unromantically to her massively allergic younger son, her master's thesis on Dickinson, and her dour, unresponsive husband, whose job description includes crashing test cars that have live dogs as passengers. Appalled, Bud longs to set Sylvia free--but after many a mind-boggling encounter with Iranian terrorism, religious conversion, suicide, and castration threats, it's writing, rather than living, that Bud learns to love. A garish, thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride, always bold if not particularly inspiring.