In jokey, present-tense diction, McCall, author of Jack the Bear, Beecher and Bluebird Canyon, asks us to sympathize with the sad-but-funny plight of a group of well-heeled, kooky-but-nice southern Californians. The first-person narrator, Joe Longstreet, a museum curator, is planning to celebrate his 40th birthday by sharing a libidinous weekend with his girlfriend Miranda when a series of minor and major mishaps spoil their scheme: Joe's folksy, brilliant, warm-hearted best friend Uncle Ben drops by for a visit; Miranda's cute-as-a-button, wise-beyond-her-years 6-year-old daughter Mel and Joe's boy-turning-into-man, wise-beyond-his-years pu. bescent son Josh end up staying with them. Miranda's mother takes a drunken spill, which might be the result of a stroke, and finally, Joe gets the terrible news that his saintly mother has died. In the aftermath of his mother's funeral, Joe, a reformed alcoholic, falls off the wagon. Miranda in disgust breaks up with him, and his psychotic sister attempts suicide by slashing her wrists. But things begin to look rosier when Joe receives a Guggenheim grant, realizes he cannot live without Miranda, and asks her to marry him. At the novel's end, they are presumably planning to continue their funny-sad/love-pain-and-the-whole-thing antics through dotage. McCall seems less interested in describing human emotions than in acting as press agent for his characters, hyping their depth and quirkiness and the specialness of their feelings. Joe Longstreet is the only one who emerges with any recognizable contour, and this seems inadvertant: affection, sexuality, and even the pain of death all become mere grist for his narcissistic sentimentality.