Few contemporary dramatists have dealt with violence, physical and psychological, more impressively than Rabe (Sticks and Stones, Hurlyburly, etc.); sadly, that skill has not crossed the footlights to whip his first novel (a study of creative/destructive impulses) into shape. The unnamed narrator is a middle-aged painter at the peak of his creativity and commercial success. In hopes of repairing his marriage, he has moved his family (wife, small son Tobias) to the country and acquired some cows. A dog causes havoc, disturbing cows and painter; he shoots the dog. Ironically, in attempting to affirm his manhood and regain control of his world with a single shot, the painter unravels. He cannot work; the brushes fall from his hands. He haunts the farmhouse of the dog's owner, the Old Man, a bad- tempered loner (and the only character there for us on the page). Without confessing to his act, the painter tries to appease the Old Man by ``becoming'' the dog, delivering the newspaper in his mouth, etc. That's the novel's first half, reasonably straightforward; the second half is all murk. The painter returns home. Increasingly irrational, he suspects his wife of starving Tobias to death; later, he begs their forgiveness. Violence surges in him; he buys a revolver, a hunting knife, a machete--and kills two women, strangers. A sea of dogs surrounds him and forces him to confess to the Old Man, who demands Tobias's death as payment. Eventually, the police catch up with the painter. Last seen, he's on Death Row. Rabe has kept specifics to a minimum to highlight the psychic drama of a partially liberated id in free fall--yet his clotted, self-indulgent prose renders that drama nonexistent.