At the start of this uneven northern Maine village tale about the hoo-hah and horrid events surrounding the approaching death of an elderly woman, there's a plentitude of broad-based bucolic thigh-slappers (of the privy, pratfall and sex-caper variety). But when the author works out some straight tragic destinies for the locals, her characters are just not deep or solid enough to stand the gaff. First-novelist Pelletier begins cheerfully, John Gould fashion, by telling of the founding fathers of Mattagash, Maine--the upright and mighty McKinnons and downright scurvy Giffords--but by 1960, ""the entire town of 456 people was genetically linked, like paper dolls."" Now, in 1959, spinster Marge McKinnon, daughter of a cold-fish missionary who expired in China, is about to meet her Maker. A funeral should be in the cards, and Marge's sisters rally round: Pearl Ivy (who lives in Portland), married to undertaker Martin, Sr.; and Sicily Lawler, married to school principal Ed and mother of young teen Amy Joy, who's giving her no end of trouble. Amy Joy's been hanging out with no-good Chester Gifford. (""If you spoil this funeral for me, Amy Joy, I will no longer be your mother. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"") The Ivys stay at the Albert Pinkham Family Motel, where you heat your water on a hot plate, sign up for the one bathtub, and where second string stripper and hooker, bosomy Violet La Forge, does sexy exercises on the porch, and On secret) comforts Ed Lawler. During Marge's decline, there's a protest march for decency led by Sarah Pinkham; Chester seduces both Amy Joy and Mom; the Ivy kids cause mayhem. Then things wind down into dead serious--with a suicide, the death of a victim of town hatred, and a dying woman remembering the joys and griefs of unfulfilled love. At the end, sexy Violet goes home to the pure life--but for the old survivors, there's still no place like Mattagash. The author has a sharp feel for broad comic dialogue and farcical doings, but the undercurrent of the worst of small-town mores (hatred between the sexes and among families), unrelieved by fleshed-out characters, muffles the laffs. Still, it has its moments.