Whimsical, allusive Effinger (Death in Florence, 1978) verges on downright silliness in this engaging but ultimately wearying quest-novel parody, which takes 82-year-old Irene of Louisville, Ky., on a mind/body journey into a variety of dimensions. Irene, you see, is feeling useless and old in her nephew's futuristic mansion (with ageless, rain-making servants named Man and Woman), and she'd really like to go to California to buy a butter dish for her 20th-century Depression glass collection--so she answers some mystical call and starts walking toward California. She's soon joined by Glorian of the Knowledge, a snappy guide (""I'm your Virgil, as it were, and we have a prescribed set of circumstances""), who takes on any body shape (a Cub Scout, Sacajawea) at will. And then he gets Irene doing it too: she becomes a young man, then Lewis and Clark, later a girl, and finally totally bodiless--while reluctantly journeying to a N.Y. subway, 10th-century England, Cleveland, across the Great Plains (now covered with Teflon), and (â€¦ la Alice-in-Wonderland) into a game of Clue. Spry, inventive, and often quite funny--but the jokiness eventually palls, especially since the whole enterprise takes place in the dwarfing shadow of its many models--from Orlando to Oz.