She Would Have Been a Taxi Dancer, But He Couldn’t Hail a Cab is an ambitious work, which, had it been published three years ago when it was written, may have proved a bit more the original allegory than it now seems. The sins and quagmire of urban sprawl is a topic we are all saturated with via the daily news and Walter Cronkite. Somehow, an in-depth exposure of that New York/New Jersey neurosis serves mainly to prod on into a revery of the ultimate Americanization of that neurosis. But that study in frustration is almost totally balanced by the spritliness of Durham author David Manning’s writing.

Manning demonstrates a rather considerable talent for manipulating vocabulary and for wringing every ounce of nuance possible from a word or phrase. Reading Taxi Dancer is akin to being a photographer behind a camera, switching lenses in mid-picture — from wide angle to telephoto — and then running to the front to get into the picture yourself. Manning successfully conveys the frustrating momentum of that part of the country, that strange rib of America where artists and robots both seem to live and do well.

Traffic was relatively light . . . and nearly everyone made it alive from the parking lot to the relative safety . . . of the store’s sidewalk perimeter. They each had their own method . . . Some played bullfighter. This group taunted the on-coming vehicles by stepping right in front of them and deftly curving their bodies sideways at the last minute, or by simply standing in front of the approaching car measuring how wide the driver’s panicked eyes would become before he could slam on the brakes. These people usually shouted “OLE” when they reached safety. They had the highest casualty rate.

Sifting through some really riotous humor and some dull-edged attempts at the same, one stumbles upon a simple, allegorical plot — it’s an “we’re off to see the Wizard-type-thing.” The saga is resplendent with pitfalls: a malicious department store in a shopping center, a car-eating white Cadillac, a block in Manhattan with no parking spaces; and, the tale is liberally sprinkled with generally inept, robotinized human beings.

I was reluctant to follow the romantic Typewriter and the realistic Roadmap (our two mock-heroes) out of Backinasack into the bowels of the Bronx. Anyone who’s ever been in Cross-town traffic in Manhattan would have second thoughts. Actually, I was sucked into that world of strange beings with briefcases tied to their ankles, a land where “as long as you steal more than $50,000, fraud more than 100 people, or murder more than 50 at any one time, and have a flag or registered trademark, then you can’t be found outside the law. It’s much safer on the inside.”

Throughout the book, Manning delves into a scene like gangbusters, qualifying, shifting gears into another phrase, another level of meaning and sometimes he’s caught flapping around unsuccessfully on the hinge of a too-timorous or too blatantly obvious choice of words. Sustaining this sort of casual yet salient flippancy in dialogue is an extremely hard thing to do. It is Vonnegut’s forte, for example. Manning occasionally falls just short of the mark in this initial effort. The story moves very well, generally; it’s just in places where the trivialities and small cuteness are dwelled upon for too long that it slows down. However, Manning does have his eyes open wide and does not miss much or the opportunity to comment on it: “Old people no matter what their age, are those who carry a dream beyond the expiration date stamped on top and let it go sour.”

Taxi Dancer is an exhausting book, exhausting like the roller coaster ride that it is, through adjectives, verbs, and the shifting sands of peripheral associations. But, you have survived an actual plummet into N.Y. traffic and you have been transported through the power of the printed page to a Coney Island of Pitfalls.

I would buy a ticket for Mr. Manning’s next ride.