Krawiec's first novel is an impressive but flawed example of ""lowlife fiction"" that could've easily been titled Under the Safety Net. It's about a man and a woman who live a step above the gutter--until they presume to want a ""normal"" life, and are swiftly punished. A series of quick chapters begins irresistibly as Jolene, a young mother, climbs, in a seedy bar, into a pit of red Jell-O to wrestle another woman in order to earn money to feed her child. A weasel-faced drifter, Artie, attaches himself like a parasite to her, and succeeds in soaking up a free week of food and booze with the cash. Jolene, the sort of girl who at one time gave herself to entire football teams behind the gym, and Artie, a 37-year-old purse snatcher worried about the new breed of women joggers, are like two animals with transplanted human brains. They begin to discover basic emotions, such as love and hope, that are unfamiliar and terrifying. They deliver sodden speeches full of inarticulate dreams that are both moving and farcical. They engage in atrocious behavior (filling the baby's bottle with sugar and whiskey) with good intentions. Meanwhile, a time-sharing condo brochure that comes in the mail provides a plot, of sorts, as Artie decides to collect on a promised free gift. Exposed to the contempt of the salesmen, their pitiable alliance crumbles rather too predictably."" Shouldn't you have pulled into the breakdown lane?"" asks Jolene as their borrowed car falters. ""This is a breakdown, isn't it?"" Lines like these encourage the reader to laugh at Artie and Jolene, but the problem is that Krawiec has made us care about these characters just enough so that we feel cheap in joining him in his mirth. Caught somewhere between belly-laughing satire and a more humanitarian concern, the novel tends to cancel out its own effects. A talented writer working in a genre defined by Midnight Cowboy and Charles Bukowski, Krawiec has not yet quite found his own method--or avoided the pitfalls of a rather predictable and sentimental first novel.