In this uneven, occasionally comic first novel by a writer whose short fiction has appeared in the O. Henry collections, a youngish, desperate southerner makes the leap to New York City. Twenty-eight-year-old Marl anne is running from her mother-in-law (whose ""blue eyes blinked in a pretty little face that was always talking""--reciting Browning). She's jettisoning wealthy Junior, dull-but-steadfast husband and good old boy. And--most important--she's running after her first cousin Bobby, who deserted his wife, and Marianne herself, and the school for poor black children the three of them had started in New Orleans. In New York, Marianne quickly makes up for the five years she's spent sequestered in an antebellum mansion. She finds Bobby directing an off-Broadway production of Chekhov's ""The Sea Gull,"" she's given the job of assistant stage-manager--though she has no prior theatrical experience--and she will soon become the lover of a matinee idol, and make a career as an agent. In the meantime, we discover that the kissing cousins' relationship is actually platonic. Herein hangs much of the plot suspense: will they do it, and when? Bobby vanishes once more; the play, unskippered, founders. The book hurtles along at a cinematic pace--in fact, by the end, it has leapt all the way to Oaxaca, Mexico, where Marianne, at a hotel floor show, discovers her cousin in his latest incarnation--as a Mexican folk dancer. Along the way, we have dipped back into the cousins' small-town past, where an eye for detail informs the book. Dark hints about Bobby's mother, seeded throughout, make his last-chapter revelations rather predictable, with the exception of a startling remembrance of his adolescent sexual habits. As for Bobby, he looks like James Dean (only taller), has the wild, raw quality of a Neal Cassady, and cares for women in the tender way that good old boys only fake. But he also delivers tedious monologues on such topics as aesthetics, higher consciousness, and mushrooms. In this last half of the book, far too much is revealed and explained; and in this flood of exposition and ambiguity, the interest founders. Marianne has been a fool for love, indeed, but it is hard to care much.