A book as ambitious and directionless as Robert Boswell’s Tumbledown is quite the reading experience. It can be exhausting and even frustrating, and when it works, you see tiny moments of a master at work, but one thing this book is not is boring, which is the greatest sin any book can commit. I became curious about this novel, Boswell’s most recent, after I learned that he was one of David Foster Wallace’s English professors, and that really shows in some of the writing here, not the least of which is the setting replacing a halfway house for drug addicts with a halfway house for the mentally unbalanced. It has the same disjointed narrative structure in a smaller form, which kind of hinders much of the book’s potential, as well as the sense of humor, which is dry, witty and never one to shy away from an immature joke or two. The main character is James Candler, a successful therapist who is a few steps away from getting a big promotion at the facility he works at. He is engaged as well, with a nice house and an even nicer car. Too bad he is in debt, in love with another woman (when you find out how he got engaged, you won’t blame him) and he must deal with group of heavily unstable coworkers and patient, like his sad sack friend Billy Atlas, a beautiful but mildly retarded girl named Karley, and Mick, the schizophrenic who is madly in love with her. This book is all over the place, which makes reading it a bit uneven until the end, where a suicide, one you’ll see coming, brings everything weirdly together. I liked this book for the most part, I applaud its good qualities and forgive all of its bad ones, and I’m glad I spent some time in this off-kilter world.