In his most ambitious book (others: That Winter, Reunion, A Secret Understanding) and possibly longest, Merle Miller has taken a stencil of modern American life and has omitted few of its smudges. His hero, or (as he calls himself) anti-hero, Joshua Bland, former child prodigy, ""again Quiz Kid"", World War II hero, theatrical producer, at 37 in utter despair, decides to take his life. But before that final, empty gesture, he records on tape the story of his life, and the novel is told largely in flashback. Bland's life (the significance of the name is obvious) consists of a series of disorders -- personal and sociological, and his record contains more villains than heroes. Villains: not surprisingly, his mother, an ""artsy-craftsy"", culture hound who was determined that her child would be a genius; her second husband, Petrarch Pavan, a characterless fraud, whom Josh most clearly resembled; his first wife Letty, a dedicated social climber who made a monster of their daughter; and a number of other general types, epitomizing moral vacuity among the more publicized and commercial aspects of American life -- in Hollywood, Washington and New York. Bland is, of course, sensitive and intelligent enough to be able to tell the good guys from the bad; his tragedy (the publisher's word) is that he is unable to properly respond to the best influences in his life and seems, in fact, compelled to destroy those people who revealed their weakness by loving him. Now having alienated the last person who might have helped him -- his second wife, his only recourse is suicide. Bland's problem is an increasingly familiar one in American fiction -- the inability to ""love"". The difficulty is that the word is used as if its mere statement were sufficient to establish the worth of the character. Merle Miller's ""anti-hero"", beginning as a freak, never had a chance. But apart from essentials there is no question that the book is clever, witty, and intelligent and that Merle Miller has accurately identified the American infirmities.