A splinter-sharp and wincingly realistic first novel which encroaches steadily on the reader before it shafts him altogether, this is the story of Alex Housman in his 16th year. He lives with his father who has never been able to pay much attention to him (earlier he had been boarded out in a foster home) -- Curly Housman is a die setter in an auto factory and he's usually juiced and sometimes falling down drunk, remembering his sluttish wife with thin rancor. When first seen Alex has been picked up by the police for having ""unlawfully driven away"" 14 automobiles; he spends a desolate week in a detention home although in retrospect it will seem freer, less lonely than the period when he is returned home prior to his hearing -- pretty generally ostracized at school and by Irene, the girl of his unrealized dreams. He takes a paper route; spends the summer caddying -- and going to visit his absentee mother and kid brother -- and finally decides to join the army, an upbeat start which will be confirmed after his father's suicide. Alex is the kind of boy everyone has overlooked in the more clamant horrors of inner city deprivation and violence. . . you'll like him and you'll want to give him the chance he's never had.