You'd expect a first novel subtitled ""or What's So Deadly About Caterpillars?"" to be a bit overeager and pleased with itself. And you'd be right. This slightly giddy, slightly pretentious debut mixes local-color comedy (small-town British Columbia) with coming-of-age fireworks and semi-torrid, semi-drippy romance--all of it spinning around seventeen-year-old Ross (""Stumpy"") Lorringer, who's seen by his gross, hotel-owner father as a ""retard."" Black one-room schoolteacher Laura sees Ross differently: first, as a canny ally in her anti-Establishment educational approach (she turns the school into a profitable egg farm) and then as a lust-love object (""I'm going to teach you how to hurt me and hurt me and . . . eeee!""). Once a stuffy school superintendent and a blow-hard newsman have been thoroughly bamboozled, the lovers turn their attention to bigger obstacles--her husband, his father--and are befriended by eccentric millionaire Jack Shorter. And the action becomes somewhat baroque and Walpurgisnachty as Lorringer senior runs amok, Ross falls down a well, Laura heroically hunts for him, and town punks Elbing and Freon scurry in the underbrush and attempt to do serious mischief unto all. ""You are. . . the only. . . food I need,"" croaks half-dead Ross as he and his Isolde are saved from being buried alive--an appropriately excessive curtain line for a marginally beguiling, wispily talented mishmash that tries too hard to be clever, exuberant, and lovable.