Another of Benchley's minor, offbeat frolics, this one set in 1906 San Francisco/ Oakland--as the Earthquake brings together, and sort of transforms, five likable misfits. Restless, 32-year-old Henry Walden, Yale grad and ex-Rough-Rider, has just come West to finally settle down at something. Middle-aged banker/speculator Gresham Stoddard has embezzled (and lost) a small fortune, so he's looking for a way to start a new life before the cops come after him. Dolly LaGrange, tough madam of the Upper Tenderloin's classiest brothel, is yearning to pen her memoirs--but she suffers from writer's block. And, over in Oakland, young pharmacist George Bender's extreme approach to contraception--total abstinence--is driving Lucille, his innocent wife of five years, to discreet alcoholism. So, when the quake and fire arrive, these five lives will intertwine: Henry, staying at an Oakland hotel, is rescued from burial-by-debris by George, and the Benders invite him to recuperate at their place (Lucille will nearly seduce Henry, finally stirring jealous George into romantic action); Stoddard ferries over from burning Nob Hill to safer Oakland, taking a new name and also moving in with the hospitable Benders; and suddenly house-less Dolly winds up at the Benders too--but while her girls set up shop in George's quake-ruined store, she is literarily inspired. . . and finds a publisher: the new ""Phoenix Books"" partnership of Henry Walden and Gresham Stoddard. Don't look for real characters here, or for big laughs, or for convincing period ambience. (The dialogue is a festival of anachronisms, including some vulgar sophomorics.) But as mild, pokey farce--including an Earthquake cameo by a frenetic Enrico Caruso--this does nicely enough, with more than a few moments of wayward whimsy (reminiscent of Preston Sturges) and peculiar charm.