The power to bring together and intertwine an awesome variety of human miseries was the hallmark of Bausch's fine debut novel, Real Presence (1980). Here, in his second book, that switch is again on and humming--but this time it produces a more jagged pattern, a series of harsh screeches as the inadequacies of the three main characters buzz-saw at each other. In a hot, forsaken garden-apartment complex in Point Royal, Virginia, between a K-Mart and a trailer camp, live: Brinhart, a plain, 35-ish man now selling life insurance; his older-by-a-few-years, ex-rock-singer wife, Katherine; and Katherine's eleven-year-old, baseball-obsessed loner of a son--Alex. Katherine, ever since her days with the rock band, has been subject to nervous breakdowns. Brinhart, originally a young groupie of Katherine's, has aged into a drunkard and a petty philanderer. Alex, heartbreakingly lonely, finally finds a friend--a girl named Amy who will, however, die of the leukemia her family has come to Virginia to have treated. All these people are fitted with edges that can never lock; page by page, Bausch creates so palpable a misery around them, such a boredom and a clinging mistaken-ness, that these lives seem to be part of a Biblical plague. But this page-by-page onslaught--crazy and crazier, more and more hopeless--eventually becomes too relentless, with seasick-making results. Perhaps in a shorter, less meticulously realistic novel (and Bausch is proving himself a young American realist of major status), the slice-of-life malaise might have encapsulated itself, taking on some universal or mythic resonance. Here, instead, it inundates and soaks us. Too long, too unswerving, too bleakly funky for its own good--this is the work of a talent leaking luxuriously; much less satisfying than Real Presence, perhaps, but affirmation of an unmistakably gifted new voice in fiction.