The basic story is as familiar as TV's The Millionaire, as old as fairy tales about granted wishes: what happens to a reasonably happy, just-getting-by family when a chance encounter opens the doors to all sorts of experience and opportunity? The family is that of Manhattan public-school teacher Allen Strand, 50, who couldn't afford to be a historian and can't afford a vacation but otherwise is fairly content--with lovely wife Leslie (a piano teacher), tart daughter Eleanor (an ambitious businesswoman), guitar-playing son Jimmy. . . and tennis-playing Caroline, who one evening saves rich, powerful Wall St. lawyer Russell Hazen from muggers and brings the injured brahmin home for bandages and dinner. From that night on, lonely Hazen (estranged from his wife and daughters, guilty over the O.D. death of his homosexual son) gratefully adopts the Strands: he gives them concert tickets, invites them to his Long Island seaside manse, arranges for Caroline to get a scholarship to an Arizona college, introduces Jimmy to a music-biz titan, helps Eleanor's boyfriend to realize his dream of running a small-town newspaper. But soon--after Allen has a serious heart-attack while swimming at Hazen's--the benevolence turns sour: a recuperation trip to France is ruined by a nightmarish visit from the abusive Mrs. Hazen; Eleanor suddenly marries, moves to Georgia, and quickly faces real danger; Caroline (now with a beautifying, Hazensponsored nose job) becomes a freshman homewrecker; Jimmy turns into a ruthless showbiz clichÃ‰; Leslie starts spending time away from Allen in France, developing her artistic talent. ""The family was finished."" And, in the book's weakest subplot, Hazen (himself now falling apart) gets Allen a low-key private school job in Connecticut, also arranging a scholarship there for Allen's Puerto Rican protÃ‰gÃ‰--an unconvincing genius-in-the-raw type who reads Gibbon but won't give up his violence. Throughout, then, the point is clear: ""opportunity is a two-edged weapon,"" fragmenting a family, bringing secrets to the surface (Allen learns that his family has always protected him from the truth), testing moral character. Unfortunately, however, to make that point, Shaw has filled this novel--his most serious book in years--with inconsistent characterizations and soap-operatic turns. And Strand, who ends up back where he started (but alone), is a fuzzy, if vaguely appealing, protagonist. Still, Shaw remains a genial, seductive storyteller, especially adept with money matters and comfy milieus.