A mechanical run-through of hand-me-downs and tabloid horrors makes up this eighth novel by the prolific Carpenter (A Couple of Comedians, Turnaround, The Class of '49, etc.) In a suburban California town, things are happening. Assorted commuters, derelicts, drunks, and crazies hang routinely around the town square (some, observing this repetitive but eccentric parade of daily life, function like a Greek chorus, as in the case of Victor, Zeno, and Piper), but events pick up when an androgynous black man named Valerie appears in the square, sits himself down, and, though interrupted now and then by the cops, begins knitting a bed-cover (he'll finish it by book's end, when he'll, like a lot of others, just go away). While Valerie knits, other things happen: a girl who worked in the coffee shop on the square is found murdered (killed and chopped up, as the reader learns, by evil sex-pervert Dick); and Tim, the married manager of the same coffee shop, falls head over heels for his employer Fahima, a revolution-spirited girl from Iran (also married). While Tim lusts forlornly for the lovely Fahima, evil Dick lusts for father-molested and sex-jaded Patty; as is his way, Dick kills Patty, decapitates her (though the fun has gone out of it, since she's dead already), then leaves her head by the campsite of poor Four Eyes, a harmless drifter who has been made feebleminded by basic training, and who in the end gets pinned with the murder. And what of Tim and Fahima? On their way out to the storeroom to consummate their love at last, Tim is struck by the tinny lightning of the five. minute wrapup (""Not I will not betray my wife!""), quotes ""Ode on a Grecian Urn,"" and, wrapped in a suitable-for-framing goodness, goes home to his unloved wife. Not succeeding as parody, yet without a substance of its own, the novel veers wildly between the banal (""Tim had taken just about all the shit he could take"") and the ludicrously inflated (""Oh, God, why, why did he have to fall in love with a doomed woman? Why, God? Do you know this is why I left you, God? You never answer my questions, that's why""). Skip the acid-free paper on this one.