THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS. By Ted Thompson. Little, Brown and Company. 265 pages. $25.

A familiar story: a marriage gone stale, family dysfunction, kids who take the right and wrong path.

Anders Hill is an unhappy and bitter man, but we care about him because of Thompson's empathetic sure-handed portrayal of Anders and the rest of the characters. Anders is in his 60s, a successful Wall Street trader with a family and fancy house in Connecticut. He begins to despise his work for its "monstrous greed." "And for what? More toys, a bigger house, trips to the Caribbean."

Deciding to give it all up, he divorces his wife and moves into a condo to kick back and enjoy life. Soon, he wonders if he has made a mistake. The story takes a dark turn when he foolishly becomes involved in a tragic event that involves not only his youngest son, but also the son of old friends.

Eventually, he finds redemption and a certain kind of contentment in a way of life that "wasn't all that planned out."

Thompson's gritty view of life is at times despairing and at others hilarious, and it's discerned through conversations with New York City cab drivers, boring guests at Connecticut parties, and other characters and episodes.

Thompson offers a debut novel with a story that never flags. No doubt his readers will be left wanting more.

Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer based in Charleston.