This novel-length opus is not really a novel but a set of very Kotzwinklian stories apparently interleaved. The retinue includes a soldier posted by Catherine the Great to guard a flower, a British MP's ""ornamental"" garden hermit, a retiree who suffers a coronary and enters Chinese paradise in the Metropolitan Museum, the madman of the Tay Road-O, and others no less quaintly destined. All meant, it may be, to constitute some sort of slantwise cross section of life, though never quite the life of this world no matter how many times he brings us back to Broadway (where ladies in shapeless furs poison each other in a blowsy cafeteria). The strength of his style here as in the past is a swift intuitive rightness -- remember ""Marie"" from Elephant Bangs Train -- which can't be faked and is almost impossible to sustain. The strain of trying can glare (dopey sexplay and names like the aliases of unsuccessful criminals) but there are still those intermittent flashes, bright enough.