Unlike his protagonist, Bradley (Love and Obits, 1992; The Best There Ever Was, 1990; Tupelo Nights, 1988) is no novice fiction writer. Yet this book, earnestly sentimental and totally lacking in irony, seems wet behind the ears. Pace Burnette, 28, has just finished his first novel and, flushed with anticipated success, returns to his hometown to await public acclaim and juicy Hollywood deals. Home is a small Louisiana town called Smoke, and most everyone there is something other than they seem--except Pace's parents and sisters, whose sheer goodness allows for outpourings of sticky prose. His father's eyes ``were green and smart, and in them I glimpsed what I'd always found in there, which is to say, a great store of love for me.'' His two ``beautiful'' sisters tell him, ``We're so lucky to have such a brother!...Why, we're the luckiest people alive.'' Such people frequently have ``warm, happy tears'' in their eyes. When not sharing tender moments with his cardboard family, Pace pursues beautiful Genie Monteleone, with whom he's been ``crazy mad goofy in love'' since they were in grade school. The fact that she's now a hooker doesn't squelch the flame; after all, she has a heart of gold. So, too, does Pace's best friend, Jay Carnihan, who, we are told, is ``the most mysterious resident the town had ever known.'' (He seems more like a poorly developed character.) Jay spends his time drinking, mooning over beautiful Bethany Bixler (a prevaricating store clerk with a heart of gold), and plotting to kidnap glutinous multimillionaire Rayford Holly, owner of the Monster Mart down the road that's killing his family store. The kidnapee, of course, turns out to have a heart of gold. These people need more lemon and less sugar in their lemonade. Still, despite the cloying world view, the novel is sort of fun to read.