Mark Budman has a good ear for sexual frustration and bittersweet comedy, too. His first novel, My Life at First Try, is the autobiographical story of a boy growing up in the old Soviet Union, where children and their parents struggle to keep a straight face (and their lives) amid the inane ideology of "sweet Grandfather Lenin." Budman begins when his main character, Alex, is 4 in 1954. He's an enthusiastic child already in love with stories and words, who sings about whatever he sees. His earliest memory is watching some tourists in his hometown in Moldova and deciding, "I want to be a foreigner."