A nostalgic amble down the overgrown paths of an unhappy childhood, from the Ithaca novelist whose earlier, hard-boiled voice (Wolf Tickets, 1986, etc.) seems suddenly to have gone all runny and soft. Jerry Langley, like most sensitive boys who narrate domestic novels, is surrounded by grownups who could hardly manage to make his life more unpleasant even if that had been their intent. His father, a WASPy New York business executive, is stiff and absent- -often literally so, since he has a mistress in the city and always seems to be looking for an excuse to miss the evening train home to Connecticut. His mother drinks a lot and occasionally tries to kill herself and, although we're not told whether she took up these pursuits as a response to her husband's affair or merely added impetus to them, they don't seem calculated to win back his affections. Young Jerry's first consolation is the company of his rather wild elder brother Robert, but Robert is soon sent away to boarding school and Jerry finds himself with no one to talk to except his nanny, Miss Gilly. Eventually Miss Gilly is also sent away, and Jerry finds little solace in anything except his parents' old photograph albums, which he pores over obsessively in an attempt to understand and re-create his family's history. ``I think I wanted to do more than fill in the dark, empty places in my family's life; I wanted to change it. Of course I didn't succeed.'' Indeed not: Despite the slow anger that young Jerry kindles into a bonfire of resentment against his parents and their world, by the end he doesn't seem to have any better understanding of his feelings than at the start--a confusion of motives that devalues the narrative. No theme emerges beyond the obvious exposition of an unhappy family's unhappiness. Vivid and convincing, but ultimately so inert as to seem pointless.