A virtuosic blend of boisterous comedy and rueful family drama energizes this compulsively readable fourth by Texan writer Dawson (Meeting the Minotaur, 1997, etc.). The story begins with fortyish Lulu Penfield's amusingly defensive letter to her oldest son Tristan (""Treatie""), who, by running off and marrying young, uncomfortably echoes Lulu's own history. ""Never a bridesmaid, always a bride,"" she's been through four husbands and as many mothers-in-law (living and dead)--and panics at the prospect of having herself become one of the latter creatures. The novel quickly segues into a lively chronicle of Lulu's male-oriented misadventures, and specifically the tortures inflicted on her by her successive spouses' mothers. After dallying with variously unsatisfying high-school and college boyfriends, Lulu fell for campus buddy Ted Vonick, a German-American kid still attached to the apron strings of his mother Hazel (""the Budgeteer""), a virtual Heloise who deluged her daughter-in-law with unwanted household hints. With newborn Treatie in tow, Lulu moved on to Texan Declan Miller, an engineer and computer whiz who's convinced ""he's genetically unfit to reproduce"" and is further encumbered by a mother reputed to be a voodoo-practicing witch, thence to New Zealander Geoffrey Rutherford, a neurotic painter whose glacially polite, interfering mother Cassandra (what else?) has inspired his violently abusive distrust of all women. After Geoffrey (who incidentally fathered her twin sons), Lulu married California journalist Dan Hambleman, who generously encouraged her ever-interrupted desire to write but couldn't live with her children: was in fact so busy laying his own family ghosts, so to speak, that he and Lulu drifted rapidly, irreversibly apart. Dawson ends this smart, sassy novel with a delightful surprise: Lulu, having become a successful mystery novelist, experiences the ineffable mystery of bonding sincerely with Tristan's understandably wary new wife. A raffish, funny, and touching dispatch from the sex and marriage wars.