In this tender, comic novel, Larry Boosinger--graduate student, writer, garage attendant, escaped convict (and perhaps a person)--has one foot in late adolescence while he searches frantically for a place to put the other. Beset by illusions, attracted by paradoxes, Larry carries on his allegorical fistfight with life. He operates in a movie-created world where attempts are made at perfection. Enamored of the romantic ideals of old movies, popular songs, and his own personal hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald, he seeks experience that will match his expectations.
What do boozy, wisecracking, anti-social-but-lovable literature grad students "into Fitzgerald and loss" do? They drop out in quest of "instinctual events," get into trouble, learn a thing or two, and (if they're lucky) write a solid First Novel about it. This first-person chronicle by one Larry Boosinger hits almost all the notes of that dependable tune: the war-injured genius roommate, the lost love, the disrupted faculty party (bourbon-crazed chaos on the croquet lawn), the zany crew of students and hangers-on, the drop-out flight to Mexico. And the stab at Real Life as a gas pumper - a stab that gets out of hand when Boosinger mixes with an unsavory bunch of car thieves, lands in jail ("there is in the end nothing romantic about having no toilet seat"), escapes into the Utah wilderness for soul-purifying fishing, and clears his name in a demolition derby. At the close: Boosinger's realization that life goes on for a mile while he's just "been running the hundred yard dash," and our realization that the plot here is but an excuse for this "saddleshoed, beachcomber midnight lost-and-by-the-wind-grieved poet-motorist" to try out his verbal chops on Experience. Happily, Carlson's chops are juicy enough to justify the outing. His eye is sharp, his hero screwy and winning, his prose wry, lyrical, and funny - he fails only occasionally, trying too hard to dazzle us and straining like mad for significance. (Kirkus Reviews)