Recipient of the National Novella Award, this fiction debut is embarrassingly underdone, its sentences awkward and its themes limply conveyed. Narrator Jake Conklin grows up in an affluent suburb, friend of the cosmopolitan Donny Flannigan. Both grapple with their fathers in the painful movement toward manhood. Conventional Jake becomes a journalist and writer, marries and fathers a son of his own, but Donny succumbs to heroin addiction and very slowly battles his way out. The pivotal scenes are also the least authentic: Jake's visit to Donny in a chemical-dependency unit, the birth of Jake's child, the resolution of the friends' adolescent rivalry. Despite Cronin's attempts at artfulness, ("My work has taken me all over the world," says Jake, "but never in my experience have I found the right words to capture the uncomplicated beauty of light in trees"), the dramatic possibilities of his story evade him.