A first novel about dysfunctional family life and coming of age in suburbia that relies on careful writing and a sly wit to distinguish itself from other narratives in this most contemporary of genres. Ignored and confused, Denny Graubart is certain that he's part of ``one of the craziest, bizarre, most twisted families that ever lived.'' For an adolescent boy in New Jersey, circa 1967, his life is indeed difficult. His older brother James is an autistic teenager who lives at home, despite his violent outbursts, and who seems to monopolize the attention of his mother, Harta, who directs most of her love and energy toward her troubled son. Denny, meanwhile, decides to spy on his parents: He taps the phone, pokes peepholes in walls, and snoops in drawers. What he hopes to find isn't clear, but along the way he discovers not only his father's not-so-hidden retreat into alcohol, but evidence that his mother is having an affair with one of James's doctors. No saint himself, Denny provokes his brother's worst behavior and sometimes cruelly torments him. Eventually, his parents recognize his weird and obsessive behavior and send him to a shrink. Denny's Oedipal longings are pretty much on the surface, and his bumbling entrance into puberty focuses on Sabina Satiani, a beautiful girl from the neighborhood who wants to become a nun. Despite Harta's heroic efforts to keep James home, the state intervenes, and Denny finally gets his way, though the end is bittersweet. Gottlieb allows his story to find its proper length--which is short--and builds to the right emotional crescendo. A fine little book.