A skillful follow-up to her first novel, Crazy Ladies (1990), West's new tale chronicles a year in the life of a stuffy and gossip-ridden Louisiana town. It's 1952. A storefront downtown has a bank of television sets. The Majestic Theater has air-conditioning. It's a dry county; only the town's one Yankee woman ever serves wine. Everyone knows that corn is only good up to four hours after it's been picked and that store-bought desserts are only for times of mourning, when preparing peach swirl, Florida cake, and Red Velvet cake would be disrespectful. There's reason enough to mourn: The dead and wounded are coming back from Korea, and a monster who happens to be one of the town's most prominent citizens is preying on very young girls. Sex, violent arguments, and religion are the amusements of choice in spite of the total lack of privacy in a community with only 906 residents. But these problems take a back seat to the real issue, the state of love or the lack of it in various couples. At the center of this maelstrom is Vangie Nepper, a product of a more innocent time (just like all those highcalorie recipes). Vangie is a fantastic cook, a wonderful gardener, and a good mother, but not very bright -- was it that fall out of the high chair when she was an infant? Her innocence prevents her from saving her daughter from the villain's clutches or her husband from his own libido. Each character gets to tell his or her own story. There are a lot of Baptists here, and the narrative is marinated in their punishing ethic; only people from the right side of the tracks and non-adulterers get to live happily ever after. This robs an otherwise clever and colorful soap opera of much of its charm.