Rural backbiting and stagnation don't create much excitement in a mild adult debut by the author of Fool's Hill (1992) and other YA titles. The lives of everyone in Maddock, Va., seem to revolve around Valerie, a bumpkin enchantress who graduates from college, dumps long-time beau Joe, and jets to Hollywood to reap the fame her hometown has taught her to expect. Movie walk-ons and an unfulfilling marriage to a one-hit-wonder screenwriter make it apparent that she's a small fish floundering in an overwhelming ocean. She returns to Maddock because home is where the heart is, right? Not necessarily. It turns out her best buddies from childhood, wisecracking thin-fat-thin Mary Grace and meek second fiddle Tess, resent her. The three have a rocky reunion during which Valerie learns that she made her friends' lives miserable by stealing their men and the spotlight. As a result, Mary Grace has weight, self-esteem, and man problems, while Tess lives in justified fear that Joe, whom she married after Valerie left, chose her by default. Little do they realize that Valerie herself has troubles. She's 34 years old, her marriage and career are failures, and she has been reduced to moving home, living in the past (via sentimental rendezvous with Joe), and dating high schoolers. In short, she's mediocre--and the novel is about the same. Hall's depiction of life in a stifling, nosy small town is accurate, but the dialogue occasionally lapses into buffoonery as Tess fights off advances from her smitten gynecologist, or Tess and Joe throw a party for a woman they dislike. Despite the marital scandals and bickering, this little world is riveting only to those who populate it. The characters, the readers, and especially the author (whose solid abilities we hope will lead to more exciting books) would all be better off if they left Maddock.