Bragg's lusty tale of a retired bank-manager's obsession with an 18-year-old urchin embarrasses more than it captivates as it grunts and pants its way toward a predictable resolution. Set, as were the author's 1987 historical romance, The Maids of Buttermere, and other novels, in England's Lake Country. He is a lonely 54-year-old householder resigned to caring for an ailing wife and writing occasional articles for the Chmberland News. She is a clever, sexy, high-school dropout from the notorious Kennedy family (drunks, thieves, and assorted troublemakers). They meet when, at his insistence, the Rotary Club awards her first prize in a local essay contest. At a follow-up interview at his home some time later--when young Bernadette's miniskirt inches up above the tops of her stockings--the weary retiree realizes suddenly that he's fallen in lust--er, love--with this pale-skinned, blackhaired gamine. In a series of Nabokov-inspired missives that he then feels compelled to write ("Bern--how urgent, how hot! A--the pause, a sigh the fulcrum of anticipation; dette--the stab, the claim"), the ex-banker begs Bernadette not to dump him, enumerates her various beauty marks, and fondly recalls their infrequent couplings (". . .jab, jab, jab, as you went slack-thighed the second time. . ."). This drooling exposition is interrupted just after the nick of time by Bernadette's more sedate view of the affair and by the dying wife's oddly generous history of their marriage. More surprising than the alliance's sordid conclusion is the fact that both the author and his increasingly inebriated protagonist manage to win, in the end, a modicum of reader sympathy--through sheer tenacity if nothing else. B-team Lolita.