The grim and contemporary intensity of Madden's last novel, The Suicide's Wife (1978), is considerably loosened and dropped back in time by this new book--a shambling, nostalgic noodle around three or four not-very-integral themes. Lucius Hutchfield is the narrator, just starting out as a writer in the early Fifties, bucking the family trend to mayhem. His brothers Earl and Bucky are con-men, bad-check-passers; to get kid-brother Bucky off a chain-gang, Lucius comes to a small Tennessee town and does his best--but no luck, until he's pressed into a little larceny himself. Madden then jumps, awkwardly, to another section, another town, with Lucius encountering an old woman in a broken-down hotel--she claims to have been seduced as a girl by Jesse James. Lucius sets out to write a story about her for Harper's Bazaar, and there's a bit of business involving a local teenager a little too hot-to-trot with his own Jesse James-imitation--plus a few other stray notions. Madden, professional through and through, does well enough with these snippets of youth-ah-youth nostalgia and tyro-writer reverie; not for a minute, however, will you be convinced there's anything more substantial here. A good writer--but a book that seems to have been expediently swatched-together from scraps of half-begun novels.