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Short's sprawling and mostly successful debut novel packs in 72 years of one family's troubles. In Depression-era Chicago, six-year-old Michael Halligan relishes the times his mother, Elizabeth, reads to him from the funny pages, full of heroes he imagines coming to his rescue. His hired thug father, Paddy, dreams of owning a gas station outside of the city even if, in the meantime, one of the people he has to "take care of" is his deadbeat father. Elizabeth, meanwhile, dreams of running away from her family with the leader of a cultish religious group. A pregnancy threatens to interfere with her plans, and she opts for an abortion that leads to her death and robs the novel of its most complex character. With Elizabeth out of the way, the narrative falls on an adult Michael, who, when not cataloguing in his journal his many nights spent with prostitutes, goes to some fairly outrageous lengths to collect every Big Little Book-a series of pulpy books starring characters from the funnies-he can find. Short doesn't bring much new to the family saga potluck, but a bevy of eccentric characters and some tense moments should keep readers in the fold. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.