Ben Hill has been going through a heavy-duty midlife crisis--quitting his job as a high-school English teacher, having a nervous breakdown, being divorced by his wife, traveling around the country as an itinerant house-painter--and then, just as he's heading back home to try to pick up the pieces, he runs his car into a cow outside the Godforsaken town of Edge, Arkansas. Ben suffers only minor injuries (unlike the car and the cow), but it takes only a day or so for him to realize that Edge is a strange place. It turns out someone has actually been killing cows on purpose, and suspicion momentarily falls on Ben. Trying to save the money for a new car, he goes to work painting the home of Vicki Trout, a cute little number who works in a, yes, nipple factory; when Ben isn't tossing steamy glances her way, he's drinking moonshine with fellow boardinghouse roomer Darrell Dicus, an embittered Vietnam vet. There's also an evil sheriff in the leering southern mode who hounds Ben. In the end, Darrell is murdered by certain powers-that-be who believe he's responsible for the cow-killings, and Ben skedaddles out of town--although not before he gives Vicki a good coat of primer. A black comedy Ö la Thomas Berger? A grimly realistic portrait of modern small-town life? Osier (Rankin: Enemy of the State, 1986) teeters between the two, and the book winds up neither funny nor threatening--merely a flat, aimless, and rather puzzling exercise from a talented writer.