Southern-gothic coming-of-age, with a mist of kinship intimacies shading into cold menace--as Clay-Lee Calvert recalls her childhood in 1950s New Orleans, an audience to the chimeric twists and dark turns of her parents' marriage. Father is Rand Calvert, a handsome, likable artist--""long on name but short on money."" Mother is Constance Blaise (""Lamb"") Alexander--pampered, cocooned in hothouse adoration. . .until she defied her elderly father to marry Rand and settle for poverty-line living. So Clay-Lee spends her childhood in a blue collar/black-fringed neighborhood, gravel-paved and smelling of soup--where her growing-up is shadowed by the presence of her father's millionaire ""Uncle Baby Brother"": he pays for Clay-Lee's elite convent school (to her disgust) and seems to have some sort of control over the whole family. (""My first impression of Uncle Baby was of a huge piece of hazardous machinery. . . idling temporarily, dangerously, amidst a wary crowd."") And, while Clay-Lee glides ebulliently or tentatively among the comings and goings of friends and family, even witnessing tragedies, her mother--the sacrificial Lamb--becomes ever more fragile, mysteriously wavering between exhilaration and edgy solitude. What is going on? What is happening to Lamb? Clay-Lee can only half-understand the shadowy appearances and conversations. But it seems as if the detested Uncle Baby is becoming the sinister avenue for Lamb's return to a bygone life, ""rich and simple and impossible to find again."" Then Rand disappears for a while; when he returns, Clay-Lee and her parents (Lamb with a baby now on the way) have a rural idyll. And finally Clay-Lee ceases to be an audience at other peoples' lives, and on one terrible night ""steps up suddenly onstage from the dark"". . . as the family secrets emerge at last. Somewhat predictable in its moves through the genre paces--but an attractive first novel, handsomely peopled and leafily intimate as it smoothly unwinds its tale of a child-woman corrupted.