FICTION : THE AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY OF LUCKY KELLERMAN by Steve Heller (Chelsea Green: $9.95, paper; 272 pp.).

Alone, ailing, bereft, an old man barricades himself in an abandoned, bee-filled schoolhouse to work on his last car. He is not really sure why. It's a question of dignity. Working on cars is what he does. What he is .

In a mesmerizing but relentlessly grim first novel, Steve Heller gets under the hood of Frank Kellerman, a master mechanic who has lost his business, his wife, his health. Above all, he has lost his son in the worst sense. What's left is pride, blind but raging.

Like many a man good with his hands, Kellerman has never been able to communicate with Curly, the son who has become a shallow, gaudy TV-game-show host. Each needs the other. Neither can find the words.

Mutely, then, Kellerman works on his car, his seventh. His others, still parked by his house, represent the stages in his life: magic, chaos, hope, joy and fear, shame, despair. For the seventh, there is no name, just a feeling, "a word that meant starting over and going beyond and more."

Kellerman has not yet stalled out. Heller is just beginning.

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