How ever did Willie Middlebrook, a nice suburban kid whose worst teenage offense was to steal public signs, come to this? He's on the lam, framed for icing a cop in an alley brawl behind a St. Louis bar. It's all on account of his innocence, friends; Willie eases into unwitting trouble the way some poor souls head directly for the one chair in the room with a whoopee cushion. Willie's middle-classness does reassert itself at times; he has learned computer programming well enough to land himself a job wherever trouble has forced him to go, and he does right by his wife--poor, wacko Erica, a hillbilly overdose whom he met while they were both patients at a swanky sanitorium. But events conspire to have it so that Willie always is coming up short. He spends some time in Philadelphia running messages for black gangs, goes prospecting with an old geezer for gold in Idaho, hitchhikes with all manner of ""potatoes""--truckers, salesmen, freaks: people hidden from the light of public notice like Willie himself, people with whom he really feels comfortable. Cottonwood splashes on the On the Road-ish fecklessness without much care for organization, and this book would just read like an airline route-map if not for the charm--wry, loping, never cute. And, even more crucial, there is Willie's (and Cottonwood's) genuine people-liking, which makes Willie's complications seem less dire; the troubled travels become just a nice excuse to meet more interesting folks. Laid-back--but not too much--and attractive.