A fat, slathering mix of high spirits, crime melodrama, metafiction, and narrative cuteness bakes up Butler's third novel (Jujitsu for Christ, 1986; Nightshade, 1989)--set in guess where, during a short period, 1981, when Bill Clinton is not Arkansas's governor and when a ``Creation Science'' bill is up before the legislature, paining every enlightened Arkansan. (The book does satisfy a journalistic curiosity as to what the President's state has been like, socially and politically, lo these many years.) Charles Morrison is one of these liberal souls, a wealthy lawyer with black and female associates and a man squarely in the way of certain redneck authorities. Someone's out to get Morrison, too- -setting him up in various ways, one of which shakes his beautiful beauty-queen wife Lianne's faith in his fidelity. The Morrisons' childless but mythically perfect marriage is the barometric stage where all things political, sexual, or spiritual are registered and played out; and when Morrison's enemies then strike at Lianne, tragedy ensues. Butler writes best when he's a social chronicler, and almost as effectively when he's the inner-voice of Morrison's cheerful libido. Much less happy are the sophomoric effects strained for (such as flow charts of characters' thoughts; or the introduction of the author himself, Jack Butler, as the guest once of Lianne's book-circle group; or intermezzi featuring God) that take up so much self-indulgent time and space here. (Did an editor's pencil touch this book, even attempt to keep Butler from being his own talent's worst enemy?) Bat your way through all the froth and you get an interesting-enough portrait of the recent New South--but know that it's a major undertaking for only a moderate reward.