Nichols' last novel, the triple-decker-thick The Magic Journey, got a little lost among its lines--social, fantastic, political--so here is the very opposite: a pure, single-voiced riff, far from gripping but scat-sung energetically. Marcel Thompson gets a middle-of-the-night call from his father, Bart Darling, a stuntman/movie producer and annoying rambler/saint. Bart's call is a cry for help: Marcel should get on a plane forthwith and come out to New Mexico (where Bart's shooting a film) and help the old man keep the love of his life, Lorraine. Marcel, grown, divorced, with children of his own, knows all about daddy Bart's way with the ladies: Marcel's own mother was bedded and bye-byed by him 27 years back without any pomp and circumstance. But he goes to help old Bart anyway. Lorraine, to his surprise, turns out to be worth the effort: she's tough and together, attractive and a talented country-and-western singer, carrying Bart's child but about to abort if old Bart doesn't stop trying to get himself killed in crazy stunts. . . like the one he's planning for the grade-Z movie under way, where he's going to dive into a gorge with only a parachute as a backup. Marcel finds himself stunned by the movie people, stymied in doing anything with the impossible Bart (only a heart attack eventually stops him), and half in love with the impressive Lorraine. Nichols works hard, but it's never clear what sort of a book he's trying to write: neither the movie-making farce nor the aggressive characterization of Bart is enough to hold the interest--nor do they quite mesh together. This jazzy, talented writer still hasn't quite found the form he's looking for.