Clayton goes at the familiar ingredients of his first novel as if they were wet dough: sticky, unset, clinging; and the considerable satisfaction that results is one of a situation that's been really worked through. Sid Kahn is 24, a Harvard grad without a job in Cambridge, a ""seventies Stucknik."" He meets Joan, 14 years his senior, mother of four, supporting herself as a waitress while going to school. Her husband Tom flies in Asia for the Air Force--and is as good as dead to her. The inevitable Sid-loan affair at first is mostly a matter of novelty: being around Joan's kids gives Sid new feelings of responsible adulthood; for Joan, a young lover is a demand, a test of her flexibility and independence. But then Tom returns on leave, is totally confused (like everyone else involved), hurts freely, and spirits the kids away only to soon return them--taking time out to beat up Sid. Sid finds himself in the middle of a misery that he can't fend off with his usual irony. For the first time in his life he feels other people's lives at no remove: turn any which way and someone else's shoulder will be bumped. Clayton keeps this all very fluid with a roughened, filmy style that fits tight over each confusion, realization, or disappointment. His novel (which could have been called Getting In Over Your Head) is strong, lumpy, discomforting, and supremely well-focused. An impressive debut.