cover image Constellations: , the

Constellations: , the

Jennifer Finney Boylan, James Finney Boylan. Random House (NY), $22 (265pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43021-6

Boylan's comic sequel to his 1991 debut, The Planets, offers some delightful scenes, but a lack of narrative structure and a tendency toward excessive silliness skewer his saga about a crew of oddballs and misfits in suburban Philadelphia. The central character in Boylan's group of zanies is Phoebe Harrison, a troubled teenager who abandons a heavy-metal persona to fit in as a preppy at her new school while she tries to deal with madness in her life. Her uncle Pat is having an affair with Isabelle Smuggs, a sculptor with a flair for the macabre, while Phoebe's stepmother, Vicki Ambrasino, is involved in a fling with Duane, the older brother of Phoebe's dense boyfriend Duard. Boylan's characters couple, break up and chase after one another at a dizzying pace, and, although there are several promising subplots, the author hasn't stitched them together into a coherent plot. He does have a gift for comic incidents and absurd dialogue-the better scenes include a canine kidnapping and a local concert that climaxes when a runaway cement mixer plows into a house-but even the comic scenes are uneven; for every entertaining vignette, there's a sequence in which goofy dialogue and non sequiturs get out of control. While the small cult that formed around Boylan's earlier novel may find this effort satisfying, the loose plotting and adolescent humor may try readers' patience. (Nov.)