Robert Arellano, . . Akashic, $14.95 (233pp) ISBN 978-1-888451-22-1

A young street hustler takes a bizarre ride from rags to riches in this uneven debut novel, which posits a future in which the Northeast lies in virtual ruin, the gap between rich and poor having widened so deeply that most public services and institutions have completely broken down. Fast Eddie is a Boston orphan who makes his way through the rubble by picking pockets until he's plucked from urban life and taken to Ho-ho-kus, New Jersey, where a rich ex-plumber turned sewer magnate Pauly Corrente and his comely, buxom wife Merry suddenly claim him as their long lost son. The couple is more than prepared to take care of Eddie's minimal material needs, but Eddie is quickly bored by Jersey life, and he's more than a little disturbed by Merry's romantic advances. After taking as much as he can stand, he runs away to become a bus driver, spiriting tourists and travelers up and down I-95 until he inadvertently finds himself in a very strange battle with a woman fronting an attack on the underground Boston city called Digtown. After winning the encounter, Eddie is proclaimed a hero in the underground town and quickly made its mayor, a role that brings him into conflict with the local crime kingpin, an old street rival named Apple Jack. Arellano keeps the action moving toward a final confrontation, but there's plenty of overwriting and not much rhyme or reason to Eddie's adventures, and Arellano's futuristic vision isn't nearly imaginative enough to add to the tale. The result is an occasionally entertaining but decidedly flawed parody of the age-old story of an orphan searching for his parents. B&w illus. by Marek Bennett. (Aug.)