First-novelist Webb delivers a hip, funny, and warmhearted look at uncharted areas of domestic life featuring a Houston artist who decides to have a baby with the low-key man of her dreams—and inherits a monster stepdaughter as part of the package. ``I don't think I would have been in this mess if my ovaries had held up.'' Ellen is nearly 35 in 1980. Although she considers herself a painter, she is holding down a ``day job'' in an art museum that consumes her nights and days. Ellen is an ``overcompetent'' woman with a taste for antique pottery and good handmade rugs. In 1980, however, she loses an ovary and decides that she'd better ``fish or cut bait'' as far as having a child is concerned. Enter Kenneth, a laid-back, balding musician she'd met years ago. Ellen agrees to have his baby, but what she doesn't expect is Tenny, Kenneth's daughter, a little girl so troubled that she overturns Ellen's antique punch-bowl and slashes her own wrist with a glass shard just to get attention. As the 80's roll on, Ellen succeeds in having her own wonderful baby boy and moves with Kenneth to an interesting if ramshackle old house. Through it all, Tenny—as well as Tenny's shrieking mother, Raylene—manipulates and destroys all the objects Ellen thought she loved. Ellen and Kenneth give and give, until even the blindly loving Kenneth gets tired of hearing Tenny's demands. In the end, however, Ellen becomes a painter, a real working artist, forsaking the museum and her love of good Italian shoes and good everything-else for part- time teaching work and the love of a good man. Webb kicks in the myth of the wicked stepmother, bringing Texas-style wit and good writing to this postmodern tale of love and survival.
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