Michaels (The Men's Club, 1981, etc.) writes books that by their nature are fitfully brilliant. But now he's gone ahead and embraced fitfulness here as the frank aesthetic, making some of this latest collection a writer's journal (""My neighbor is building his patio, laying bricks meticulously. The sun beats on him. Heat rises off the bricks into his face. I'm in here writing. He'll have built a patio. I'll be punished""); some of it memoir of his barber father and Michaels' own growing up as a first-generation English-speaking Jew (""Even as a child, I thought Jews were obsessed with meaning. We didn't just eat, sleep, work, study, play, but needed the meaning of these things and everything. Meaning as such, as if it had practical value, like wood or gold. We sought it with brain fingers, loved how it feels in the elaboration of talk""); and some of it autobiographical--a last section--about his first marriage to the crazy and doomed Sylvia. Much here is striking, but the lacunas--between when Michaels brings himself fully to bear and when he seems to bring to bear only loose-woven irony--ultimately drain the book and leave nothing of it in mind. The sections themselves seem off-weighted, arbitrary, distracted. A sievelike experiment--from which more streams than is caught.