Fragmented, often haunting memories of a 1940s small-town childhood--all of them shadowed, fairly effectively, by the fact that this childhood will be jolted into adolescence by an accidental killing. The narrator--unnamed, wistful, a trifle arch--moves around in time, framing his recollections with one particular evening in 1947: it's summer, by a pond, and the narrator-as-a-boy visits an alcoholic recluse (source of redeemable beer bottles). . . while waiting for the nightly truck arrival of a strange, fat couple and all their furniture. (""They put the couch down on the grass right beside the pond, so they could sit there and fish off the couch."") But, while orchestrating this oddly affecting evening-at-the-pond, the narrator also fills in some other, earlier memories: his five-year-old fascination with funerals and dead children (the fatherless family, on Welfare, lived in an apartment that was annexed to the local funeral parlor); his edgy chumship with the undertaker's impassive daughter (she had cold hands and preferred Grand Central Station to Inner Sanctum!). And, throughout, there are flashforwards to 1948, when the narrator shot his new best friend--they told each other their dreams--on a pheasant-hunting expedition: though acquitted of criminal negligence, the scandal was traumatic, and the narrator became obsessed with research into hamburgers. . . because ""If I had gotten a hamburger that February day instead of bullets, everything would have been different. . . ."" Clearly, then, Brautigan's pretentious, whimsical tendencies--sometimes sliding into cuteness--peek up here and there in this slight fable, along with a stray sermonette or two. (On fast-food restaurants and the death of the imagination: ""I sometimes think that even our digestion is a soundtrack recorded in Hollywood by the television networks."") But the central images here--the recluse's postcards and beer bottles, the child's eye view of funerals, the furniture by the pond--do add up to something sad and tender; and this little sonata on loss, loneliness, death, and nostalgia (""Dust. . . American. . . Dust"") is Brautigan's most appealing work in some time.