Nancy Zafris, . . Penguin/Blue Hen, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14922-1

Zafris, the fiction editor of the Kenyon Review and the author of the short story collection The People I Know, dissects the decidedly strange subculture of scrap metal workers in her quirky debut novel, delving into the dissolution of an Ohio family's scrap metal operation when 30-ish John Bonner finally takes the reins from his domineering father. Bonner has the knowledge and savvy to handle the job, but he finds himself distracted by a difficult divorce and apprehensive about the prospect of managing his father's ragtag workers. He turns to his older sister, Octavia, for help, but she, too, is coming off a bad relationship and is equally dismayed at the prospect of following in their father's footsteps. A larger issue surfaces when one of the older workers finds $5,000 in the upholstery of a car used to ferry two murder victims, and John's "finder's keepers" decision regarding the money quickly produces problems when the cash disappears. John's search leads him to the worker's daughter, but her questionable decisions generate a series of fiascoes that brings the media in when the money finally reappears. Injury follows insult when another worker loses his life in a grisly accident, leading John to try to unload the business in a desperate effort to salvage his career. Zafris creates a demented and somewhat lovable cast of oddballs and misfits, although she gets a bit carried away with a libidinous saleswoman who has the hots for both John and Octavia. She does a better job of capturing the wacky world of the scrap metal industry. While the occasional lack of continuity between bizarre incidents reveals the typical struggles of a writer going from short stories to her first novel, the combination of Zafris's solid writing and unique subject matter bodes well for her future as a novelist. (Aug.)