The usual gang of dreamers, misfits, and oversexed cowgirls come together by chance in a Nevada roadhouse and set off on a pilgrimage that, as a first novel, has all of Chaucer's verve but very little of his coherence. Everything starts in Eureka, where Cookie the fry-cook decides to shake off her husband and their domestic life to head for California. Meantime, Chiara--a New York mathematician similarly on the run from an ancient daily routine--drives into town with her daughter Izzy. Cookie and Chiara meet at the Owl Club bar, where they are joined by Renato the painter, Juha the carpenter, Ananda the lawyer, Muscovado the reporter, and the ranchers Hansel and Gertie. First, the group retires to Hansel and Gertie's ranch, where they give themselves over to an endless symposium of food, sex, and storytelling. Then they decide to hit the road, and Juha constructs an enormous house on the back of a flatbed truck to carry them all west together. The outlines of the tale are pretty clear from the start, and the evil shadow cast across it by two demented adolescents named Tabby and Grimes comes as no surprise. The two believe that deceit has overtaken the world and feel chosen to oppose it. Their quest puts them in flight, too, and although we are meant from the beginning to see them as bad news, they manage to come across as more amusing (and far more sympathetic) than their rival pilgrims. The real irony is that the tragedy they bring on at the end seems to come from another story, and it's a poor fit within the tone of this one. Windy and pompous, but fun. The endless Tom Robbins-like rhetoric and the allegorical flatness of the characters quickly becomes a nuisance, but first-time author Nightingale manages to keep the ball rolling and can turn down the volume when he wants to. Underripe, then, but promising.