A spirited, conversational narrative improves a somewhat predictable debut novel (after the story collection Sweat, 1995) featuring the irascible Lori Taylor, a lesbian bicycle mechanic struggling to overcome adult illiteracy. Against the sunny backdrop of Berkeley and San Francisco, 28- year-old Lori lives a carefree life repairing bikes during the day and then going on long, after-hours treks with Mickey, her coworker and best friend. Mickey, facially disfigured after a car accident when he was ten, got a large cash settlement for his loss, money he hopes to use now to open his own bike shop with Lori as partner--on one condition: that she agree to a pact with Mickey (who has to overcome his shyness with girls) that she learn how to read before they open their bike store. Lori, though, harbors no enthusiastic visions of a world opened up to her, nor does she consider reading anything more than a drudge. While sensitive to the subject of adult illiteracy, Bledsoe agreeably avoids either a patronizing or an overly tender approach: Lori is not a dismal failure, but someone who simply can't read. Her tutor is Deirdre Felix, a wealthy no-nonsense older woman recently capsized by a husband who has run off with his secretary. The two make a Mutt and Jeff pair- -Lori full of down-to-earth althleticism and Deirdre cultured and reserved--but they nevertheless create an odd alliance out of mutual need. Simultaneously, Lori begins an affair with Whitney, a young, sophisticated businesswoman, though the romance doomed to failure because it's built on a complex web of lies, an earmark of the secret life of the illiterate. Eventually, after much tedious work, Lori discovers the magic of words and becomes, quite proudly, a reader. A modest, straightforward debut whose likable characters and honest approach make up for the simple plotting.