Jones's debut novel--a variant of the generic Southern Eccentric-Rally--sparkles with some witchy wisdom and wit but then trails off in boozy musings about fate and death and heroes as a passel of agonizing small-town North Carolinians fizz to a small froth. Among the Milford town visitors and visitees, there is Susan, who was abandoned by a bisexual charmer and ambitious rat named Skinner. Susan--``lonelier than lonely''--makes imaginary entrances with titles: ``A Woman Abandoned,'' ``Woman Emerging from the Sea,'' etc. Then there's Laura Warren, would-be actress (who, it turns out, is), wife of Julian, last of the Old Family Warrens and mother of ``mentally retarded'' eight-year-old Jubie, who says it like it is. Julian drinks like a fish, having failed to keep career-bound Laura or to ``rescue'' his brother in Italy (discovered in bed with Skinner). Observer and epigrammatic-wisdom fount is aging Ned Trivett, who hosts not only a hooting Italian Princess originally from Mobile but two young and handsome ``visitors''/``hustlers'': the thick but honorable Brother Reeves, and an Outsider with no history, Jake Cullen. (Susan, noticing his small elastic bathing suit, knew immediately that ``he was not from Milford.'') In the end, it'll be Jake, with Brother as simple- minded backup, who'll enter lives, absorb pain, and achieve two beautific sacrifices. The author has had summer theater experience, and his rehearsal scenes are hilarious. His characters, however, need fleshing out. Brittle, showy, and theatrical but often bright and entertaining.