Despite his insight and lyricism, Stadler (The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee, 1993, etc.) can't keep this overambitious commentary on sex and the state from falling flat. At some time not far from now, in a town that could be anywhere, a male teacher is apprehended for making love with a 12-year-old boy. But one of the doctors evaluating his case, Doctor-General Nicholas Nicholas, is so moved by the beautiful descriptions in the teacher's unrepentant essays that he pursues an unusual path of rehabilitation whereby the teacher takes on a new identity in a new city. Mr. uh, uh, as the teacher comes to be called to protect his anonymity (""It's a hesitation, a failure to say a name""), becomes a writer who never writes, stays away from little boys, and tries to discover his ""place in the social scheme...the right relation of love and...politics."" To make things clearer, his rehabilitators offer therapy sessions in which the Doctor-General and Mr. uh, uh undress and put paper bags on their heads (so they can be fully revealed yet never see each other); there are also conditioning sessions in which Mr. uh, uh watches pedophilic porno films accompanied by electric shock and noxious gases while trying not to foul the ""phallometer."" (This proves difficult since Mr. uh, uh has decided that pain and passion are inextricably linked.) Mr. uh, uh takes on another identity as Mr. Sludge after he's recruited by a group of artisans who modify the faces of politicians. Stadler's tale is complicated, and the themes are sophisticated. He's clearly riffing off Nabokov, but this novel lacks the structural brilliance required to maintain control of the complex layers of identity and meaning. Intelligent, strange, and often beautiful. Not quite impotent, but less than satisfying.