Weldon continues to address her Dear Reader with smarty asides concerning the damn foolishness of us mortals--and here, the sorry spectacle of feckless parenting. This is a chronicle of marital pratfalls that result in a resilient kid's horrid adventures in a cold, cold world. ""People like Clifford and Helen love and create havoc in every decade. . .and the children of [such] lovers. . .might just as well be orphans."" A 14-hour blast of First Love between charming, ruthless, art-world wheeler-dealer Clifford and ""soft, tender, provocative"" Helen--and the future baby Nell was on her way. Throughout the years after the divorce--a divorce as passionate as their marriage--Clifford is pursued and treed by an appalling, unlovable maxi-heiress, and Helen marries a fine man who fathers more children and bores her. Also through the years there's some genuine grieving going on. Little Nell, an adored tot, had been untimely ripped from the home nest with Helen because Clifford, a loving Daddy, arranged a kidnapping plot. Then there's a plane crash--and Nell, assumed dead, also survives fire, an auto accident, a dreadful orphanage, a harum-scarum life with a good-natured gang of druggies, etc. etc. Will Helen and Clifford ever recover Nell? Will the lovers continue to blow on passion's embers? With the author's eye on the Lesson for the Day, Weldon sugarcoats the moral pill and asks at the onset, ""Why not?"" With a plethora of entertaining originals, a cheerful backhand to art merchants, and a happy cacophony of coincidence with a fluting of Dear Reader commentary (in The Shrapnel Academy, 1987, which dealt with the idiocy of the arms race, the asides were appropriately sharper and meaner)--a lighthearted (on the surface at least) cautionary tale about Love, which, ungrounded by Reason, short-circuits family life and sets fires everywhere.