The self-portrait of a motel manager, and snapshots of the guests, are all you get in this barely breathing first novel. Dewey Howser, close to 40, manages the eponymous 59-unit motel in an unidentified western state and feels that--even with next-to- nothing in his savings account--``what I have here is a good deal.'' The reason is clear: His job gives Dewey his only human contact. Both his parents are dead; he has no siblings or friends (he is ``between girlfriends''); and he lives alone in a messy bachelor's pad, without a pet, TV or stereo, his only hobby woodcarving. So the motel is his life, though even there ``sometimes it seems that all there is is more of the same.'' But there are exceptions, as when Richard L. Finfer, traveling to Rhode Island ``to help a woman run for Governor,'' leaves behind a briefcase stuffed with campaign secrets, and Dewey talks to him long-distance, ``the first phone call lasting over three minutes that I'd had in months.'' There is even, despite Dewey's lack of confidence about dating, the chance of a new girlfriend. He meets Cindy Bonds at the shopping mall. She calls the shots and decides they'll spend a night together at the motel (``what we did was mostly new to me'') before she moves on with one of the guests. ``Congratulations,'' Dewey tells him, without irony, and then has a nervous breakdown and quits his job. Despite his dire situation, Dewey's tone throughout is quite chipper, fitting his low expectations. The night with Cindy and the breakdown have the feel of last-minute improvisations by a writer in a panic over not having put any food on the table.