An amusingly conceived and brightly written fantasy by the author of RÇsumÇ, with Monsters (not reviewed) and The Return of Count Electric (1993). Harry Gainesborough wrote the pessimistic, disturbing children's book Zod Wallop--a dark fantasy expressing ``the end of things, the winding down, the world turning into stone''--while trying to recover from his grief as a patient at the Harwood Psychiatric Institute after the drowning death of his beloved young daughter, Amy. Fellow patients and staff members--including schizophrenic Raymond Story, catatonic Emily Engel, the morose young ``giant'' named Allan, and the mysterious Dr. Peake (who's suspected of unethical practices connected with the experimental drug Ecknazine)--are all transposed as characters in Zod Wallop. Or think they are. When the ebullient Raymond leads an escape from Harwood, Harry, long since discharged though still sunk in sorrow, is reluctantly drawn into ``his'' people's pursuit of an alternative ending to the catastrophe forecast by ``their'' novel. With consummate skill, Spencer interweaves elements of his tale: the eccentric actions of Raymond and his mushrooming entourage, along with the unaccountable appearances among them of presences from Zod Wallop; flashbacks from Harry's past; and moving descriptions of Harry's hope against hope that there may rise up before them an ending in which Amy does not die. Spencer has an imagination akin to that of cartoonist Gary Larson, with touches such as Harry's teasingly described earlier books The Bathtub Wars and The Sneeze That Destroyed New Jersey, not to mention ``the planet Decorum, where the gentle inhabitants could be murdered by rudeness.'' And the novel's oddly comforting tone, which describes unusual relationships and outrageous occurrences with bland matter- of-factness, recalls both classic fantasist Saki and stylized midwestern realist James Purdy. A work of great originality and charm from a brilliant writer of fantasy who's also a very considerable serious novelist.