The latest novel by this former master of true grit southern fiction smartly steers away from the slapstick antics that so marred his last (Body, 1990). Even so, Crews still can't re-create the redneck eloquence of his early work. All the losers and weirdos who people this off-kilter book bear some kind of scar, literal or metaphoric. Pete Butcher, boxcar worker and former Marine, carries the heaviest burden--three years earlier he accidentally slammed his four-year-old brother in the forehead with a hammer, turning the bright and affectionate boy into a slobbering vegetable. Shortly thereafter, his parents die in a flaming car wreck, his brother is institutionalized, and the rest of Pete's family rejects him. This Georgia boy quits the University of Florida after four days and finds himself busting his hump in Jacksonville, trying to forget the past. Only no one will let him. Not his co-worker George, a bulking Rastafarian from Jamaica whose back is branded annually by his woman, Linga, a voodoo goddess with an elaborate design of scars on her beautiful mulatto face. When the family across the street from Pete's boardinghouse learns his story from a busybody neighbor, they too join the effort to redeem Pete, who feels ``cursed before man and God.'' The Leemers themselves are also part of the ``walking wounded''--mother Gertrude has just had a radical mastectomy; father Henry is a hard- working, overly cautious fellow; and daughter Sarah, who captures Pete's heart, fears the lump in her breast may be a legacy from her mother. After Henry dies from a heart attack, things take a turn for the bizarre, sucking Pete into a wild plot of corpse-snatching, cremation, and Rasta hocus-pocus. Only the strong and patient Sarah (``a woman to be reckoned with'') can pull Pete from this ``quagmire of craziness,'' and also reunite his family. A roomful of farting corpses indicates the depths to which Crews sinks here for comic relief. From sin to redemption, this highly improbable tale of hope and affirmation just doesn't cut it- -it's as belabored as the awkward title.