A mechanical, emotionally flat novel whose ""day-in-the life"" format and thematic concerns--decadence and ennui in smalltown America--have never seemed so exhausted. It is Halloween day in Excelsior Springs, an upstate N.Y. college hamlet, and spiritual crises loom for the four male friends who alternately share the novel's spotlight. Down-at-heel Sandy Stern is turning 30 and faces eviction from his Victorian garret. Edmund Black, grandson of prominent black orator T.W. Black (the credentials suggest Booker T. Washington as the model), is wasting a prestigious legacy on pills and booze. Waiter George Wells, an unfinished Ph.D. candidate, broods over his cancer-ridden politican father. And drug-dealer Joel Harlowe, a counterculture burnout, craves release from self. imposed banality. The razon-thin plot concerns Harlowe's plans for an elaborate Halloween ball that will draw the four men together and (it is suggested) provide them with a smashing end to the tedious ""carefree, romantic, screwball-comedy life of the perpetual house party."" Predictably, the ball is a bust. Harlowe is gunned down in a drug rip-off that backfires, leaving Stem, Black and Wells to ponder their immature folly and set their lives straight. Last minute contrivance makes it work. Kunstler (Blood Solstice, 1986; An Embarrassment of Riches, 1985) sacrifices character and dramatic plausibility for a plodding narrative symmetry that seems borrowed from television melodrama. Sadly, this well-meaning veteran author has confused real life with commercial bait.