Purdy's books are unpredictably strange: of late the only safe assumption is that some sort of melodrama will be involved. And this time the melodrama has a comically excessive, haft-parody quality about it. In the small town of Fonthill, during prohibition, a clutch of eccentric characters interact: a rich woman, Adele Bovington, obsessively in search of the illegitimate son she'd once been forced to relinquish; Alec and Ned Cottrell, brothers, who've had an introductory sensual (if not quite sexual) education at Adele's knee; a castrated WW I veteran named Keith Gresham, who is addicted to drugs and to Adele--and who also knows where the long-lost son is. There is much gossip, social censure, diamond wearing, opium drinking, and unbridled female sexual hypocrisy. (This is a particularly misogynistic book, even for Purdy; a local farmer given to bestiality is made more sympathetic than any of Fonthill's women.) And the sole fascination--except for devotees of comic soap opera--is to see how long and dexterously Purdy can keep it all spinning. With none of the submarine oddness of Purdy's last book, Mourners Below, it's very much a brittle, near-campy entertainment--but with those sour, vengeful notes ringing out most clearly.