A pebbly but spasmodically diverting first novel all about the nine decades of Minerva Bolton--who at age 91 flashbacks her eventful life for Hawk Simon, an aspiring writer and student at the Ohio River college of St. Kathareen's, and for Hawk's lover Cara, who's looking for her ""past, a pedigree."" Minerva's autobiography begins in 1906, when she comes to the village of St. K. from Massachusetts, where she has left chilly husband Hammond (Minerva has nipped off with the family valuables). And Minerva, about to make and sell hats for a living, begins a lifelong love affair with rich Karraman Robley--who feels he must go through with marriage to pallid Emmaline. This enervating wedding night takes place at the time of a spectacular flood--and during its aftermath Minerva finds herself isolated with Emmaline, pulling her through the flu and a miscarriage. But finally matters are righted: Minerva's business flourishes, and she's off to Europe for the secret birth of child Kate, whom she leaves to be raised by French friends. Emmaline, meanwhile, produces nine children, goes bonkers, and dies; Minerva coaches Karraman through financial squeezes; and Karraman is killed by Minerva's hubby Hammond, who's been biding his time. At the end, Miss Minerva's tale and presence will give Hawk a much-needed coherence; and Cara, it seems, is the daughter of Minerva's child Kate, now deceased, so at last she has Roots. Unfortunately, though Minerva's doings (especially in the early sections) show wit and spirit, the traumas of Hawk and Cara are clogged with hyperventilated verbiage: ""Anger rose, flared, stood stagnant in the middle of a tortured, sweaty limbo."" And most of the characters remain fuzzily drawn. Still--some lively moments and a certain energy.