This sad, dark novel of the Depression does justice to the courage and confusion of middle-class America by never erring on the side of romanticism. But its nominal connection between chapters fails to turn the strong writing in what reads like a short-story collection into a convincing novel. Each of Quinlan's (Muldoon Was Here, not reviewed, etc.) chapters focuses on the characters touched by a Chicago-born drifter named Keltnor--from the people he grew up with to a cross- dresser he bumps into in a bus station and never sees again. In moments of hushed desperation, steel-mill workers, high-school students, immigrants, wanderers, and the like suffer losses that force them to turn away from their dreams and ideals and face a more realistic present. These losses can be obviously tragic, as in the unexpected death of a fiancÇe in ``The Family Dombrowski'' or the sudden illness of a Lithuanian workhorse in ``The Sick Wife.'' But more often, the losses are so subtle that it is hard to discern what has been lost from what has been gained. For example, ``Gargoyles'' shows Keltnor losing courage and conviction as he risks the relative safety of a campfire to confront a possible convict who has urinated in the whiskey bottle being passed around; Keltnor leaves, but an hour later, his fear gets the best of him and he creeps back. Consistently, Quinlan renders tragedy in mundane tones: Young boys demand to be treated as adults and, surprisingly, are, and a young lover wants a little flesh from his girlfriend and, in an unlikely twist, gets it. But these wins are also losses because the boys now have to fend for themselves and the lover thinks his girlfriend puts out for anyone. Unfortunately, these chapters never really come together and good stories don't make a novel. The American Dream gets blown to bits in this slow, discontinuous, but still remarkably readable novel.