A literate but disjointed first novel that lives less in its material than in its peacock's display of a Jamesian sensibility. That sensibility is everywhere, interpreting speech and gesture, endlessly subtle. The material, though, is a mess. The first third is an oblique coming-of-age story. A 14-year-old girl, Joey Taylor, lives with her grandparents in the Midwest; her father has just died of cancer; her mother Meg has absconded with his money (postcards indicate the West). Chance brings Joey to the reclusive, middle-aged David Giffard. He gives the Precocious girl piano lessons, and they watch fragments of a movie featuring a young actor, Pal Adams (actually Giffard's son). Bit by bit, Joey tells Giffard how she became the ideal daughter for a man wearied by his vain wife, how at the end he grew hurtful and difficult; and how, by the end of three years, ""she'd recreated the father she wanted to keep."" Then, for reasons that remain obscure, Joey goes West to search for Adams. The long middle section, set in Los Angeles, has the disconcerting effect of Henry James working Joan Didion's territory, a twilit world of the lost and the damned that includes a male stripper, a chorus girl, a truck driver and Meg Taylor, now penniless. By the time Joey has tracked down Adams, she finds she has no questions for this corrupted man, though he has a hair-raising version of his family history, partly confirmed by his father in the concluding section; now we are back in Joey's hometown, where Giffard has repurchased their family home for the Taylors. All very strange, but what is hardest to fathom is why Giffard would recall the incurably foolish Meg from Los Angeles and then tell her his life story. Plenty of nice detail work here, but it can't disguise the novel's basic lack of coherence.