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David Rizzo, who owns a gun shop in a forlorn Phoenix strip mall, senses that his wheel of fortune, long stuck in the "down" position, is spinning upward, toward resurrection.

As his sputtering Cadillac makes its way past "drive-through liquor stores [and] uncharmed apartments," David feels elated. It's 2014. He's heading to fetch Nick, his 30-year-old son, from the hospital, where he survived a heroin overdose.

Divorced and desperate at 59, David had been about to sign away his failing business. Now he exults at the prospect of employing his estranged son, and saving Rizzo's Firearms from bankruptcy. Present circumstance aside, "there was no need to worry because, the last time Rizzo checked, this was still America, and in America there would always be hope."

Battling hope in "Last Acts" are such other 21st-century American traits as mass shootings, economic uncertainty, a life-snuffing opioid epidemic, religious intolerance, racial inequity and impossibly polarized politics: The Rizzo pere et fils won't have an easy path to wealth and happiness. Oh, hell, no.

There is so much grim humor in Sammartino's debut novel, such a keen eye for the details of rage and heartbreak, such empathy for humiliation, that we enjoy the ride, wincing and laughing along the way. The slings and arrows of his hero's outrageous fortune unfold always with a fine satirist's eye and ear. In Rizzo, we have a uniquely contemporary loser for the ages. Sammartino, who pulls off a hilarious "Onion"-style headline one minute and wrenches your heart the next, is a remarkable talent.

David's love for Nick is admirable, but not his faith in Nick's business acumen. Washed-out, depressed, chain-smoking, self-pitying Nick hardly seems a chip off his charismatic blockhead father's block. Nick tries a few counterintuitive social-media marketing tricks that buoy the gun shop for a time before the whole shebang veers off the tracks.

When dad goes to prison for selling an automatic rifle to a teen who uses it in a school shooting, Nick is left in charge of the family business, disastrously. There isn't a total loser he doesn't decide to trust, including a druggie friend and his father's arch-nemesis, amoral venture capitalist Buford Bellum.

By the time David emerges from prison, his American dream is shattered and he takes a construction job that his aging body can barely handle. Father and son have hit bottom, which they oddly find something of a comfort. They room together in a tiny apartment. They largely fail at attempts to communicate. They eat supper and watch television. An accident sends David to the hospital, where he rages about medical bills he can't afford.

Each man makes feeble attempts to assure the other of their love. The dark forces of America have let them down. For now, till death do them part, they have each other.

Claude Peck is a former editor at the Star Tribune.

Last Acts

By: Alexander Sammartino.

Publisher: Scribner, 224 pages, $27.