Thirteen years old when his widower science-teacher father begins to show signs of obsession and mental imbalance, Max Darrigan finds it all but impossible to grow up the way everyone else is doing in his little New Jersey suburb. The father grows ever stranger in a heightened poetic manner; climactically, he'll start excavating the backyard, looking for archeological evidence of centuries-before inhabitants (shades of other recent fictional holes: Bette Pesetsky's, Tim O'Brien's). Max finally is taken away by an uncle as the father drops more precipitously into confusion. Monninger (The Family Man, The Summer Hunt) throws the book into a distinct second gear here; Max's ""normal"" teen-age is now restored. But if the crazy-father scenes seem a tad forced, so too unfortunately does this, Max's second adolescence. Monninger creates credible teenagers apart from Max--especially his cousins Stu (a budding entrepreneur) and Marcie (a one-gift SPCA, a lover of all creatures great and small). Yet needing to keep Max's father (who's gone away by now, into drifting eccentricity) always in side view, he enforces a breath-held fragility to event--and the result is that nearly everything that happens feels too stagy, too pointed for an otherwise nuts-and-bolts suburban coming-of-age. Less heavily and pointedly themed than Monninger's previous work, but still a book lacking naturalness and compound motion.