Based on the screenplay to Sean Penn's forthcoming movie, playwright Rabe's half-good second novel (Recital of the Dog, 1993) represents a new stage in film novelization: serious writers hired to expand from film scripts without the usual constraints of this normally unheralded genre. The tight-lipped John Booth has spent the last eight years in jail for killing an eight-year-old girl while driving drunk. Not only was Booth's bland life altered for the worse, but the girl's father, Freddy Gale, a middle-aged jeweler, also condemned himself to eight years of misery. His marriage fell apart, he neglected his remaining twin sons, and he wallowed in a semialcoholic stupor, nursing his need for revenge. The day of Booth's release, Freddy visits with a gun and gives Booth a three-day reprieve. While Freddy ``tends his anger,'' Booth lumbers around his parents, retirees whose embarrassment, fear, and awkwardness seem palpable. His ex-con anxieties weigh heavily, making for lots of pained contact with old friends, who remain insensitive to his ordeal. Freddy, meanwhile, who sleeps with a different stripper every night, steadies his nerves with booze and visits his ex-wife, now remarried and still undergoing grief therapy. Hoping to have his mission sanctioned, Freddy torments his ex with accusations of cold-heartedness, though he himself has never visited his daughter's grave. His self-destructive descent is partly checked through an angelic intervention by his daughter. In fact, Emily Gale speaks to all three main characters, steering Freddy and Booth to a melodramatic end. Every subtlety in this reductive tale of the guilt-ridden versus the life-affirming is eventually spelled out; with some of the self-consciousness of a stage drama inflated to fit the scope of a movie, Rabe's novel too often reads like a bloated screenplay.