More laid-back and world-weary wit as Barthelme looks once again at the empty-at-the-core spectacle of life as trendiness. Barthelme's third novel, following the far richer The Dead Father and the early Snow White. At 53, Simon takes a break from his work as an architect and moves into an almost-bare Manhattan apartment, thinking things over after separating from his incompatible if not outright antagonistic wife. Paradise would seem to be--wouldn't it?--suddenly finding himself host and lover to a previously drifting trio of sexy, willing, and beautiful young women: Veronica, Dore, and Anne. But paradise is imperfect, as, over the next eight months, doubt, malaise, shallowness, vague threats of the void, quarrels, jealousies, and uncertainties seep into the life of this white-wine-and-spinach-salad Eden--and peer, often predictably, through the lines of Barthelme's by now more than half conventionalized satire. Simon has bad dreams about clothing (he can't get his pants on, or finds himself shiftless in public), and talks over his varied anxieties in question, and-answer chapters with a doctor (""I never scream. I'm a doctor""). The beautiful girls share Simon just about equally, and not always one at a time, but Simon even so goes off for a while with a standardized poet of limitless ego ("" 'The dust in your poems,' Simon asks her, 'is it always the same dust? Does it always mean the same thing?'""), then returns to find the girls themselves gripped by a feminism-inspired (it seems) need to move on ("" 'I gots to make mah mark in de whirl,' says Veronica,"" and"" 'Time boogies on,' Dore says""). Meanwhile, a vague but pervasive fear is expressed that rabid skunks are creeping in to take over the city. Overall: tamed Barthelme, padded overmuch with suitable-for-framing patches of just plain shtick, and with regrettably fewer moments of the old, brilliant, durable, literary, telling Barthelmic splinter in the eye.