A first novel that attempts, with muddled surrealism and antic/frantic humor, to examine that most tried and true of recent fictional themes, the mid-life crisis of an American male. Martin Fassler, 36, is a nice guy, or so he imagines, steady, goodhearted, firmly niched into life. He's the Fassler of Blair/Fassler, Inc., a small San Francisco-based company that prepares multimedia sales shows for corporate clients. The creative side of the business belongs to Ed Blair, a freewheeling genius who one day walks into Fassler's office, explains that he's having an ""emotional difficulty"" and can't work, and simply disappears. The rest of the novel is a tiresomely extended practical joke with Fassler as its victim. He soon learns that Blair and the entire staff have decamped to Florence to work on something mysteriously called the ""Italy presentation."" In the meantime, the business goes to the dogs and Fassler's new house is torn up by seemingly crazed city workers looking for code violations. He's certain he's being followed and photographed. A wise older man named Rosenthal walks straight out of a Saul Bellow novel and into Fassler's tennis club, where he attempts to give poor Martin lessons in the Game of Life. Why is all this happening? Is all this happening? Martin is being given a chance to change his life, his girlfriend Joyce explains: ""It's a closed system, the one you're orchestrating."" The message for Fassler is that there's more to life than financial security and matching socks; he finally catches up with the reader and understands this at the novel's close, when he sees the ""Italy presentation,"" which is indeed a secret film of his life taken by Blair et al. A flat, rather preachy first effort, with lackluster characters (especially the passive, lumpish Fassler) and little genuine humor.