This zesty though often corny first novel, country-and-western style, presents some dazzlingly good writing and a feisty first-person heroine. Lottie Jay, 29, an Iowa farm wife and closet songwriter, runs out on her booze-drenched, TV-numbed marriage to seek her autonomous fortune. After a farewell bar stop, a pyrotechnical Driving While Intoxicated crash and an idiosyncratic stay at the local detox center, she begins gamely struggling to make a new, dry life for herself in Cedar Rapids. The (literally) supporting characters include an obese, wheelchair-riding lesbian, a poetic Lebanese candy-maker, a Nashville sharpie and an oracular Elvis Presley, delivering pep talks and spiritual counsel from a poster in Lottie's new kitchen. Big events include seduction and betrayal, attempted rape, alcoholic backsliding and the amazing performance of an Elvis impersonator. However, it's the little moves--the daily stoking up of competence and confidence, the trial and terror, the along-the-way gut-building of the ""five-foot-zero"" protagonist--that provide the heart of the novel. There's substance here, but even cartoon credibility is stretched, especially as true love comes on with Georgie, the muscular-but-not-macho, motorcycle-riding ex-drunk, who loves nothing more than baking cookies and eating ice cream smushed in chocolate syrup. All in all, Walking After Midnight sails easily over some stormy waters--alcoholism, sadomasochism, paraplegia, even a shark-tooth flash of international terrorism. Language lovers may want to stay for the verbal fireworks, but serious readers will want more depth.