David Eastman teaches junior-high English in a Boston suburb--where he's benignly observant of the habits of the kids: ""After every kid in the eighth- and ninth-grade at Stroud had tried thirty different seats, 'saved' at least seven empty seats for his friends, called twelve other kids 'assholes,' given three teachers the finger, been told to 'get settled' six times, punched the kid beside him for farting, and made a bizarre noise with his mouth, the commotion subsided and finally some semblance of order was apparent."" But Eastman's view of his fellow-teachers and Mr. Garner, the principal (who uses the verb ""to glean"" a lot and tacks ""please"" onto every third sentence) is jaundiced at least, nearly CÃ‰line-esque at most. One of the book's first scenes, in fact, an outrageously drunken end-of-year teacher's party, climaxes in the barbecue-ing of a cat. And only two other young teachers, Ken and Randy, are equipped with integrity in Eastman's eyes; the rest are hypocritical barbarians in love with a pathetic big-fish/small-pond authority. So, when a student is accidentally killed during a field trip that Ken, Randy, and Eastman have warned the principal against, first-novelist Sullivan's book finds its dramatic ball-bearing. But this plot element comes very late; for too long before it, we're just given episodes of elaborate and anarchic set-up humor--some of them very funny but few of them helpful in moving the novel along. So: there are laughs here, but in such staccato urgency that the book ends up like a rude sit-com--a black-comic Welcome Back; Kotter--instead of a fully turned comic novel.