Quaint, quirky, leisurely, and often confiningly parochial, this is a paean to the rambling farmhouse in Normandy that's been in his family since 1920 and that Kilmer can't resist trying to restore to habitability. Kilmer, author of the Fred Taylor mystery series that debuted last year (Harmony in Flesh and Black, 1995), is also a painter, as was his grandfather, Frederick Frieseke, the American impressionist who first found the property near the isolated town of Mesnil. Kilmer's wife, Julia, smitten herself, pretends to pragmatism in the face of his love for the place where they've roughed it intermittently en famille since 1968. Her resistance to his idea to finally commit real money to it makes for such dramatic tension as there is here. Nick solos in Mesnil for a week to assess the situation seriously. The bathroom floor caves in, an owl takes up residence in the chimney, the sheets seem to have vanished just when old friends from home come to stay. One of those friends gets it absolutely right when, talking to Julia about the place, she says, ""Why don't you just think of it as his mistress?"" Any task, from preparing a Calvados-marinated rabbit to arranging for the rehabilitation of the family cemetery plot, easily engages Kilmer, a born adherent to the do-it-yourself ethos (which, he observes, is so inimical to the French that they don't even have their own word for it), but when not thwarted by custom or inexpediency, his ambitions are subject to sidetracking by all manner of social and commercial transactions. He does take time out to appreciate local color, patiently recording details of private and provincial genealogy and collecting and sharing natural and civic arcana. Kilmer's gentrified-hippy sensibility, at first rather engaging, grows thin long before the narrative winds down.