A somewhat disjointed but appealing first novel--winner of the 1992 Western States Book Award for Fiction--set in the early 60's and 90's in small-town Louisiana. The story is narrated in turn by members of a curiously likable family--of terrible parents and unstrung kids--and by a pair of depressingly noble black servants. After a 1991 erotic dream tribute to Mama Viviane by daughter Siddalee, Part I begins with Siddalee, in 1963, telling of the Girl Scout camping weekend led by Mama and one of her ``Ya-Ya'' chums. (The Ya-Yas drink bourbon and branch water, play a kind of poker and shout and drink again, and call everyone ``Dahling'' like their idol Tallulah.) Meanwhile, those moments that ``came and went,'' the chances to be kind and set things right, are on the mind of Daddy, ``Big Shep,'' in his story. Both parents are awash in self- pity, feel threatened, and, to make things worse, Big Shep is not really one of the Old Boys, being Baptist (he talks to ``Old Podnah'' in the fields) and a farmer. Viviane feels no one knows what she really is and hates Siddalee's love of books: ``Life is not a book. You can't just walk away from it when it gets boring and you get tired.'' The parents drink away the silences within, while the children see all but don't really know all--until Part II and 1991, when they remember and examine their memories with hatred, bitterness, and, crazily, adult love. The servants disclose terrible cruelty; one son discloses sexual abuse; and another son pays witty tribute to the homeland and people in bitter cynicism and true affection. Wells's people pop with life, but it's quite a stretch from a sour mash Auntie Mame to an abusive Mommie Dearest without some fictional coherence; here, violence seems grafted rather than grown. But Wells's view of Mama Vivi and a Ya-Ya, bagged to the ears and rocketing down the road, is memorable.