I write as an ordinary paying customer, not as a literary expert.
Ballantine's 3 decade long experience of drifting around the underbelly of the Great American Dream yields atmospheric landscapes, and sharply drawn characters which evoke not the technicoloured fizz of Hollywood but the grim monochrome of life just off skid row.
Other reviewers find his work runs the gamut of emotions, but for me this collection of short stories drift like tumbleweed from one shade of grey to another,largely because I can find so few characters to invite my sympathy, other than the helpless baby, offspring of a disturbed mother, and Shorty his dog. There's little to amuse in the recollection of many drink and dope sessions, for the characters he describes seem to exist only for themselves and without apparent concern for anything or anyone. Some find the author quite a raconteur, yet for the most part he comes across as shallow. Without doubt, his close encounters with possible suicide are disturbing, yet these do not appear to be as a result of wrongs done him by others, more a consequence of his own unfocussed life, the reasons for which appear to be his own choice. It is very difficult to actually care about what he's done or where he's going, it becomes so dreary.
An interesting read in short doses, but not for the depressive, and I'm not sure I'll be accompanying him on further journeys; I've attended more humorous funerals.