This smart, funny first novel from a seasoned reporter contains layers of meaning, yet keeps up a light and appealing tone. When a young boy discovers a seemingly ancient four-volume journal in a Long Island garage, an art dealer hires Peter Van Overloop -- a Columbia graduate student who defines the term ""slacker"" -- to translate it from the Dutch and assist in deciding whether or not it is the authentic, and therefore extremely lucrative, work of 17th-century Dutch painter Frans Hals (who lived in Haarlem). Van Overloop immediately gets caught up in Hals's problems while trying to ignore his own. While he is house-sitting a downtown loft, his Upper West Side apartment is decimated by a fire, and when the loft owner comes home unexpectedly he is forced to migrate from apartment to apartment, at one point staying with a waitress whose true vocation is ""parade art,"" meaning that with her friends she dresses up in surreal costumes -- her favorite is a vulva -- and meanders through the park in her spare time. Meanwhile, Hals is dealing with almost constant poverty, the death of his first wife and subsequent marriage to an illiterate but loving woman, even another man in Haarlem of the same name who has been publicly chastised for beating his wife. There is no stiff historical prose, since Van Overloop has been instructed to translate the writing into everyday English. The diary, in fact, makes engrossing reading. Frans Hals emerges as tremendously human: At one point he masturbates while spying on his protÃ‰gÃ‰e as she takes a bath; after his first wife's death, he torments himself with a memory of having slapped her back while she was ill. A loopy tale that manages to be both intellectual and fun.