A cut-up comic novel with a peppering of smart-aleck quips throughout, some of which cloud manic situations that would be better left unadorned. It's all about the picaresque adventures of Mallory Delaney, who, socked in childhood with a nasty load of mothering, and growing up and into a rocky adulthood, is marched through miseries, until, repeatedly hammered on the head by love, she finally understands about ""taking"" rather than ""giving."" Mallory's mother, naturalist photographer and world traveler, was killed by a white rhino--the picture at impact ""made an arresting spread in the National Geographic."" (Mother would have been pleased.) Mother's demise left Mallory, 8; ardent vivisectionist Gerald, 10; Maude, 6 (who wanted to fly self-propelled) and sports-junky Ned, 4. At first the four lived with the handsome, Errol-Flynn type of actor, Father, who was not particularly interested in them. Through the years Mallory tended the brood and served Father as maid of all work. Finally, there's freedom and extreme poverty as an acting student in New York--learning from her gay hustler roommate how to shop from dumpsters and falling in love with a writer who chickens out, while Mallory's acting life hits bottom as she appears at a convention in a skinned-chicken suit (she clucks for the wrong audience). Meanwhile, Maude has flown up to big-time publishing exec, and through her Mallory will meet horror-story writer Travis Holmes. ""Why should a man of such wealth, intelligence and good looks love me?"" Mallory wonders after their marriage. Home is Travis' ""Leger de Main""--a crazy-house pile, with secret sliding panels, a wolf named Mozart, and Father Holmes, whose hatred of Mallory burns with a gemlike flame. There's a horrid reunion of Delaneys, burned dinners, and a disastrous birthday party for one of Travis' cool kids--which includes a group of awful orphans, a plague of chicken pox and the pleasures of a sleet storm in an unheated house. The Travis/Mallory split comes after Maude and Travis are discovered steaming in a secret passage, and Mallory tries adultery. There remains a stretch of open-road hard-scrabble with Mallory's unsightly dog Wart, and a trip to Mexico with a wise, elderly sport, before the happy close. Overpacked, but still this comic novel has a good-natured, nutty charm.