A teasing domestic comedy set in today's grubby northern England, centering on a single day that threatens to tear a family apart. In his fourth novel to be published in the US, Francis departs from his trademark surrealistic, violent satires (Swansong, 1986, etc.) to venture into Roddy Doyle territory--24 hours in the life of a thoroughly unremarkable family, in the course of which everyone, including the dog, flirts with disaster. John and Margaret's 19th anniversary is the occasion, and as John fantasizes about having a fling and bearding his boss at the bank where he works, his wife agonizes over her secret appointment to have a lump in her breast examined. Meanwhile, eight-year-old Stephen mistakenly hops on a bus on his way to school and falls under the sway of a bellicose wino, and teenaged Ann plays hooky with a trio of youthful Jesus freaks headed for a fundamentalist Christian ``hoe-down.'' The author's intent is plain--``You could be transformed overnight, in the blink of an eye, from a perfectly ordinary family to a well-known local tragedy''--and his prose is vivid and convincing in the various set-pieces that introduce the characters. Francis can also be quite funny, particularly when writing from the dog's point of view (``He went into the front room and tried half-heartedly to fuck the settee, but it didn't convince....''). The plot, however, is built entirely on coincidence and arbitrary decisions--the (anti) climax being when Margaret meets John's boss at the clinic where he's having a lump of his own examined, and very nearly begins an affair with him at his house--an almost-affair interrupted by John's knock on the door. Each character, though, will end up blissfully ignorant of the danger that has come so near. Brilliant set-pieces aside, Francis delivers curiously underdeveloped people in a workmanlike plot--memorable mostly for one very mixed-up dog.