With his labored, sometimes overwrought style, second-novelist Lewis (Sister, 1993) gussies up a rather ordinary tale of deception and intrigue: a study in identity that never fully explores the unreliability of its strange narrator. The first-person story is told in the voice of a fortyish woman, originally named Caroline Harrison, who--we find out by the end--is speaking to her teenage daughter, explaining her aimless life of reinvented selves and a crime committed nearly 20 years earlier. As a 27-year-old fleeing a bad marriage in New York City, Caroline literally crashes in Sugartown, Texas, a small, idyllic community where she finds work as an orderly in an old-age home and friendship with a fellow drifter named Bonnie Moore. The novel veers into improbability when the two women get caught up in a Sugartown riot (over police brutality), during which Bonnie dies and Caroline bashes in the skull of a policeman. Assuming Bonnie's identity, Caroline heads back east, eventually ending up in upstate New York, where an old codger from the nursing home has sent her with a mysterious package. In a remote house in the woods, Caroline can't figure out whether she's a prisoner or a guest of the three ex-cons holed up there; nor is she certain what they're doing with the eight-year-old who's living with them. Eventually, the trio lets her in on their scam--they're counterfeiters, not the pornographers she'd suspected. As soon as they finish their work, they head west, where, with a new identity, Caroline gives birth to a daughter fathered by one of the cons--the same daughter to whom she directs this entire narrative, an explanation of their endless moves and of the cops who finally burst through the door. The elements of the thriller--unexpected turns and surprising coincidences--serve to propel a novel that never seems entirely sure of itself. Despite bursts of sharp imagery and startling turns of phrase, Lewis's odd book falls short both as art and mystery.