Collin Elder, age 17 and motherless, is boarded out by his absentee actor-father to an Arizona bad-boys-home--and he works a summer as a stable-hand at the Arizona State Fair. There his eye is caught by Louisa Berg, daughter of the high-wire motorcyclist on the midway; and when both have had it up to here with their bottom-dog situations, off together they fly. Temporary jobs in a mean-spirited nursing-home follow and eventually net them a third traveling companion on their vague flight west: an 84-year-old named Will Clare. And the resulting turns--disappointments, mostly, proofs that old people have it not much better than adolescents--are the stuff of gentle, rueful comedy. Carlson (Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald) is best when his characters are simply on their feckless or un-oriented way: a scene involving a Nevada sandstorm, or simply driving (""The sun in the windows, as the day warmed, was suffocating in that lovely way, and sleep sounded like tires on pavement, wind over fenders""). But the light touch here finally doesn't really compensate for the lack of strong characters--and, despite a nice relaxed arc of approach, this second novel by a quietly promising writer is too bland to leave much of an impression.