Biting humor permeates Alain Mabanckou's slim character sketch of a Congolese watering hole in his new novel, Broken Glass (Soft Skull Press, 176 pages, $13.95). The L.A.-based African writer unfurls a slick, uninterrupted ramble about damaged bar patrons as recorded by an aged alcoholic narrator, identified only as "Broken Glass." From his vantage point we learn of regulars like bawdy Robinette and "the Pampers guy," whose wife left him to date his son and who now wears diapers because "his ass was going to ooze for all eternity" from being raped in jail. What starts off as an unrestrained depiction of outcasts gradually becomes a satire of self-reflection. The Pampers guy believes he'll get back together with his wife and write poetry for her. Broken Glass fantasizes about drowning in the same river that took his mother and thinks of her as "the most beautiful woman on earth." The characters' mistakes are in plain sight, as told by one another, but neither the Pampers Guy nor Broken Glass can let go of their fabricated nostalgia. Heavy-handed literary allusions—like a patron named Holden who spews "rebellious adolescent nonsense"—tend to obscure Mabanckou's wry storytelling, but Broken Glass is still a fiercely comic character study.