Knopf editor Lish's fifth book combines the repetitive minimalism of Samuel Beckett with the obsessive confessionalism of Harold Brodkey--it's a slim novel that deliberately obscures its relation to the author's biography. The narrator of this self-described ``quick man's novel'' is a speaker at a writer's conference named Gordon Lish, who also happens to edit a magazine called The Quarterly (which he plugs), and whose life seems to resemble that of the ``real'' Gordon Lish in every other regard. With cameo references to friends James Salter and Dennis Donoghue, narrator-Lish considers this a dangerous book--'something different, something illegal, something pretty incommensurate.'' To his way of thinking, this dilation on life's miseries is a high-wire act with no net, but it's hard to see the risks--other than embarrassment. Lish wanders from topic to topic--disease and decrepitude, old age and death--with no grace whatsoever. He dwells on his debilitating psoriasis, a skin condition that has led him to a unique style of dress, daily sunbathing sessions on Manhattan roofs, and an occasional stint in an insane asylum. He also remembers visiting, at age ten, his dying uncle in Florida, where, much later in life, he watches his father choke to death poolside. This leads to reflections on shortness and frugality among men, and to a description of a rare watch Lish inherited from his father. His mother's remains spur him to recollect holding her on the toilet in old age. Aside from some professional tidbits--being fired at Esquire, holding his excellent job at Knopf--Lish ruminates on his sorry relations with his sister Natalie, who committed suicide. Behind all these self-pitying ramblings are an unnamed fear and dread concerning his wife's health. If these intimate revelations are fictional (in the sense of being untrue), then Lish has subtly betrayed his readers; if they're true, then he's abused his subjects. Either way, it's an exploitative and cynical little exercise.