Joseph Burke is a Washington, D.C., newspaperman stuck back writing obits, an eternal penance for a years-earlier indiscretion with the wife of a senator he was profiling for the magazine section, a mistake that unfortunately hit the gossip columns. Divorced, living with his father Woody in a decrepit neighborhood (Woody's in a wheelchair, claiming not to be able to walk after an auto accident that killed his wife and Joseph's mother), Joseph's going nowhere fast. But then the new widow of a renowned Capitol restaurateur crosses paths with him (even in death Burke finds connection with his female sources)--and there's hope. Bradley (Tupelo Nights, 1988; The Best There Ever Was, 1990) plays an often reckless game of chicken with sentimentality--which half the time makes him fun to read. The women here all are cartoons, excessively puffed out with either adorable or viperish personalities; and the men--father Woody, Joseph's best pals and co-workers Mac and Alfred, the corrupt editor-in-chief of the paper--sometimes seem mere vehicles for wry comebacks and oblique philosophizing. But the book also, in its relaxed and looping way, paints an endearing portrait of very unendearing Washington, and is imbued with the anxieties (and even, amazingly, comedies) of AIDS- era sex and romance. Very much a mixed-bag, then: a series of long shaggy-dog stories, some first-rate.