Barrett's first novel (he's written other books) is accomplished through intermittently spaced pieces which pick up and attempt to put together the life of Dexter Hillyer, second-class portraitist, first-class sybarite, poseur and ""great American failure."" He is seen through the eyes of his godson, the narrator who saw Dexter at his brother's funeral when still a child; at sixteen in Paris where Dexter left him in the soft, knowing hands of his young mistress; and briefly again during Dexter's marriage to the only decent woman in his life. At the frayed end of it, Dexter's finally surrounded by a lot of degenerate faggots and a silent German caretaker who leaves one question mark--was he a chauffeur, or a baron? The spotty story travels from the Midwest to Europe to Southern California at a time when Biarritz or Cecil Beaton meant something. This is at best a Champale nostalgia trip--after all it's pretty difficult to make a man manque like Dexter Hillyer matter.