Readers familiar with Stahl’s Permanent Midnight (1995) will not be surprised to find his doped-out hero reaching epiphanies during an extended, drug-addled rape sequence that constitutes his “coming of age” in 1970. “Sometimes I don—t even know who I am . . . I just know what happened to me,” one character concludes, an apt summary of Stahl’s approach to creating fictional characters. Sixteen-year-old Bobby Stark, third in line for the ravishment of a teenage girl—this time consensual—when we first meet him, is expelled from his prestigious prep school because of the incident. “In my family, I survived by disappearing,” Bobby confides, and after his return home to Pittsburgh, he suffers the futile attempts of his horrid-but-lovable mother to reform him. He runs away with Michelle, a grade-school love who has since joined and left the Hare Krishnas, and together the two aim to get to California. Bobby knows it’s love when she asks him to wipe her after she pees in a parking lot, then lick it: “Bad Stuff People somehow found other Bad Stuff People. Good Luckers stuck with other Good Luckers,” Bobby notes. He realizes early in his journey that he’s among the former when he and Michelle are picked up by Meat and Varnish, a pair of aging, chemically enhanced hippies who feed them drugs and encourage sexual oddities—all of which Stahl presents in a sprawling, impressionistic style. Along the way, Bobby thinks fondly of his dead father and of Michelle. Long stretches of the novel, meanwhile, are quite funny and read as a comic monologue of the sort Eric Bogosian might perform—but Stahl certainly takes his time getting the story told. While there’s a tenderness amid the chaos, it’s most often found in Bobby’s descriptions of the troubles of others—which cascade down these pages in increasingly freakish colors.