In this comic First novel Howell tweaks the fatuous facade of a hollow second marriage--a middle-aged showcase of delusions, hypocrisies, warmed-over sex roles, and considerable hot air. Clay, on his well-heeled financial feet again at 55 after a costly divorce from mad Marion, is sure that marrying handsomely full-breasted Cynthia, 38-year-old owner of a small Long Island gift shop, is a splendid idea. He's lured by her way with creature comforts, the promise of great sex. Furthermore, penny-pinching Cynthia obviously ""needs"" him. And, perhaps above all, Clay could show Marion (who had the gall to marry a millionaire) that he has more sincere marital criteria. Of course, ""the package that was Cynthia was not perfect"": her teenage daughters Beth and Sara are ""born tarts""; and there's something about those ""smart little yellow glints"" in Cynthia's eyes. But these are quibbles, Cynthia's more than willing, and so they are married--though not before Clay brings forth a small ""mere formality"" in the form of a prenuptial agreement (in case of divorce Cynthia gets nothing), which the powerless bride signs. Wedded bliss is brief, however. After the honeymoon in Clay's Marion-gutted apartment, Cynthia's soon raging over Clay's requests for coffee and gingersnaps. By Christmastide she's into tree-bashing, spending the holiday locked in her room. Then the shopping begins--$300,000 and counting--for apartment decorating, as Cynthia joins the army of women fueled with ""the demonic energy to buy, to do, not pause or feel."" And she also harangues Clay, who's aghast and furious: ""I hate being married to you. I hate your kids. But I won't leave you ever."" But the status quo will change--after Cynthia has a conspiratorial lunch with Marion. . . while randy young Beth, miserable in their new wealth, plots liberation through a sex scenario. And Cynthia's final move will be a noble one, leading her family back to the honest life. A delightful first novel, nasty, funny, but also with beautifully integrated admonitions about assorted relationships-of-convenience.