By Troy Patterson
Updated November 19, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Flourishing an ardor for black music familiar since his 1987 debut, The Commitments, and a sidewalk lyricism common to Irish writers with Joycean aspirations, Doyle produces an almost lively slab of hokum in Oh, Play That Thing. In 1924, the hustling Dubliner Henry Smart — star of Doyle’s 1999 novel A Star Called Henry — arrives in an America ”bigger than the states, bigger than the world. America was everything possible.” Initial bounces through the worlds of sandwich-board advertising and bootlegging lead our hero to adventures that would embarrass Zelig: ”I stayed right beside Louis Armstrong. I stuck to him, and it began to make sense. I knew why I was there.” Why? Because in the absence of a genuine story, phony history must suffice.