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.