Once a mechanic and now primarily a drunk, Kelly hasn’t had a steady job for years. He lives in a small apartment in Venice with his large family: his elderly mother, his long-suffering wife, Jane, and his three daughters -- lethargic Mary, lively and devious Judy, and lovely but speechless Penny. They scrimp by on welfare payments. Kelly likes to discuss life and society with Tracy, a voluble left-winger who lives under the pier. A couple other friends help him get along, Pincus, his landlord, and George, the owner of a lunch room on the beach. Like Kelly himself, his friends have no idea how to solve his drinking problem; they just tolerate it with good humor. It’s the arrival of Miss Henderson, a new welfare worker just out of USC, that will lead to major changes in Kelly’s life.
This novel has a superficial resemblance to Cannery Row, in that it features a group of guys in their thirties and forties who have minimal social responsibilities. Like Steinbeck, Truesdell keeps the tone light. His characters have good intentions and, when things go wrong, preposterous rationalizations. Yet, as the presence of many important female figures suggests, Truesdell wants to do more than describe the charms of social isolation. Kelly has responsibilities -- or at least he would have them if he could ever get sober. His drunken interludes are more sad than amusing. His liquor-induced plans are pathetic rather than silly. Although Truesdell uses a third-person narrator, he convincingly presents the muddled thoughts produced in an alcoholic fog. Kelly emerges as a decent fellow with a big problem. Assuming the ironic ending is not meant as a prescription for society, the book leaves readers wondering what to do about alcoholism (or any addiction) among the poor.