There's lots of potential in this account of the friendship between a sensitive, 13-year-old boy and a 17-year-old wanderer during the Ohio depression years--but, unfortunately, it's largely defused by some mood-drunk overwriting and the over-explicit sentiment. Set against a background full of appealing recognitions (fading porch furniture drenched in summer sunsets, the whir of lawnmowers down the street, the sounds of the Casa Loma orchestra drifting from neighborhood radio sets), this is the story of young Richard Mulcahey's exposure to older Matt Collins--who rescues Richard from a murderous tramp, who gives him bike and football lessons, who introduces him to dreams of night trains and great trucks and faraway places. Matt, only child of a damnation-obsessed widow, wanders some, but always returns to the loving atmosphere of Richard's family: lively sister Kathleen and Richard's widowed, good-hearted, politically active mother. And Richard is drawn to the gentle sympathy of Peg, a neighbor who is able to draw from him the dark secrets which have plagued him--fears and corrosive guilts that trace back to the nuns and a homosexual priest who scarred him as a small boarding-school child. So, while Richard gains in coherence and strength, Matt, lonely and lost, wanders too far, is hired by mobsters, and then in final defeat flings himself over cliffs to his death, taking with him (as Peg reflects) Richard's childhood. An affecting scenario, blurred rather than sharpened, however, by Maher's fulsome prose (""He had an Irish face stained with seasons he had yet to know"")--and the dialogue, however light or flippant, has a metronomic pace; thus the music is there, but it's distant. . . very.