Darrel Skaitts plays a snappy shortstop for a Southern league baseball team, the Nashville Vols--yet his great fear is to be a ""lifer"": someone who comes to the minors and stays forever. Darrel suffers the disappointment of being bumped from the lineup by an inferior player. Still, things are okay in the beginning--spiced by the randy joys of love and sex with Peggy, a socially superior Vanderbilt coed. But then Darrell begins to lose, starting with his temper: he assaults an abusive sportswriter, also the team's fat manager. So, kissing his baseball career good-bye, Darrel eventually drifts to Chicago, where he lands a job tending bar at a grungy Mafioso joint and seeks redemption in Candy--a penniless young mother whom Darrel encounters sleeping with her daughter in a movie theater. Unfortunately, however, Candy's subsequent infidelity, some bad luck, and Darrel's own self-destructiveness all finally spin him back down--into more loneliness, desperation, crime. First-novelist Frank goes at this naturalism as if he's trying to write Studs Lonigan all over again. There are effective low-life scenes--e.g., an excruciating, funny luncheonette vignette involving a repulsive glutton named Louie. But this long novel veers wildly in tone at the beginning, unsure of its identity (a rake's progress or a tragedy?), and then settles into a droning linearity and thinness.