This prequel to the Lambda Awardwinning Living Upstairs (1993) finds 17-year-old Nathan Reed struggling on familiar ground- -with his family loyalties, his sexuality, and his vocation as a writer--back in 1941 L.A. Since his parents (a layabout father who dreams of beautiful music and works sporadically as a porter; a fortunetelling mother who's just been busted by the police) don't offer much in the way of nurture or support, it's only natural that Nathan would go looking elsewhere for a family: to Moon's CafÇ, where the staff of the Fair Oaks Junior College Monitor, overlooking his lower division status, take him to their collective bosom and press him to write a column for the paper; to the Harlequin theater, a fourth-floor loft where a cadre of Monitor regulars stage An Inspector Calls to critical acclaim and official harassment; and to a series of prospective lovers ranging from flirtatious ingenue Alex Morgan to disastrous Moon's waitress Sheila O'Hare to Fair Oaks instructor Kenneth Stone, an alleged Nazi spy, to mortuary organist Desmond Foley, whose weekend orgies are a town scandal, and to Nathan's old school friend Gene Woodhead, who returns from military school determined to pick up their sexual experiments where they'd left off. As in Living Upstairs, the storytelling is episodic and gracefully understated. This time, though, Nathan's rites of passage, lacking the retrospective inevitability of his later adventures, seem merely pro forma, a series of ritual hurdles he has to get over before he's ready for the infinitely more interesting adventures lying ahead. The final intrigue that winds up the story--a tragicomic shooting, a suicide, an elegiac confrontation--is forced and arbitrary. Familiar matters sensitively handled, with all the dated charm of a yellowing newspaper feature.