Jaffe's debut novel, about a divorced father and his young son, recalls the better domestic realism of the past two decades. But, as with the work of writers like Ann Beattie and Richard Ford, his quotidian drama and mundane observations seldom live up to his exacting style. Nothing in life has worked according to plan for Gordon Nash, who'd dreamt of becoming a high-powered, big-city litigator. When his twentysomething wife abandoned him and their boy, he instead opted for partnership in a small firm in tiny Tarent, Kansas, in the wholesome heartland of America. A single father, he hopes to avoid the mistakes made by his own late father, a hotheaded college basketball coach. Meanwhile, Gordon's widowed mother sends four-year-old Calvin all kinds of odd gifts, including a pickled Portuguese man-of-war, which he names ""Mom"" and carries around in a Mason jar. The confused little boy also steals urinal disks, and has to endure his father's occasional outbursts of cruelty. When the local high school asks Gordon to coach the basketball team, he decides to use the occasion as a way to bring himself and his son closer--the opposite of his experience with his volatile father. Feeling cheated by life, Gordon craves an unencumbered existence but mellows somewhat when he falls for Zoe Ward, a veterinary student who adores Calvin. Then Gordon's ex-wife suddenly appears, actually running off with Calvin until she realizes why she felt inadequate as a mother in the first place. For all its sensitive-guy posturing, the story builds to a well-deserved (in its opinion) slap across the face of Gordon's selfish ex. Jaffe's agonizing over the violent instincts of men will resonate with both genders, even if it amounts to such disposable insights as ""being a father is difficult."" Too bad the novel suffers from the baby boomers' parental conceit that they've somehow reinvented parenthood.