Nine autobiographical essays by novelist Wolff (The Final Club, 1990, etc.), whose own early-life adventures would make Tom Jones blanch. Those who have read Wolff's memoir of life with his father, The Duke of Deception (1979), will know this territory pretty well: the author's outlandish childhood (played out from week to week in cold-water flats, debutante balls, jazz clubs, and stolen cars); his con-man father; his Choate-and-Princeton years--all of which were given longer and better play in the earlier telling. Still, while some of the new essays are warmed-over Duke, most of them pick up where that story was left off. Wolff's first job out of Princeton--teaching English at an American prep school in Istanbul- -provides the basis for the best piece here (and, one hopes, for Wolff's next novel), and his reconstruction of how he abandoned academic life for a career in journalism and writing (``Apprentice'') is both wry and moving. The voltage drops significantly toward book's end, however, when Wolff tries (in ``Matterhorn'' and ``Waterway'') to tell us more than we need to know about his midlife crisis, and rambles on to no discernible or interesting end. Wolff's eye is unfailingly sharp and his descriptions remarkable and glib. When he keeps to his subject, he can be mesmerizing, but he tends to wander into uncharted waters, where he frequently gets lost.