A first novel--in the smart, comic women's fiction vein--by a writer whose articles have appeared in magazines like Self and Allure. For the past six years, Chelsea Cox--a 36-year-old artist, sort of the Lucille Ball of the West Village--has avoided both her mom and the Waspy suburb outside Philadelphia where she grew up. But then, mainly to raise everyone's hackles, she returns to show off her new fiancÇ, Bennett, a black man--or, as the author puts it, ``an African-American Ward Cleaver'' who would really love to be the first nonwhite admitted to the Beechwood Country Club. Of course, Chelsea's mom, Patricia, the ``slightly tipsy woman in pearls'' who sacrificed to give Chelsea only the best, is horrified--so horrified, in fact, that she attempts suicide. Meanwhile, however, Chelsea runs into Beechwood lothario and professional black-sheep Peter MacKenzie at a Christmas party. His sexual magnetism (``To say Peter and Chelsea had sex then hardly conveys what really happened'') and ever-readiness with a condom blows poor old Bennett right out of the water. Coping with Peter's commitment problems will help Chelsea realize that she's got to start communicating with her mother--and this she does--though even at the close the Peter question is left hanging. Falter-Barns's nice way with a comic line and steamy sex may endear her to some. But everyone else will be put off by the story's simple implausibilities (how are we to believe that Chelsea would ever get engaged to someone as ridiculous as Bennett?), uncertain tone, and addiction to stereotypes.