An entertaining and immensely likable debut novel, set mostly in Louisiana's southwestern Gulf Stream area, from the talented Gautreaux (stories: Same Place, Same Things, 1996). When beautiful and brainy Colette Jeansomme marries good-looking Paul Thibodeaux (who's also a terrific dancer and the best damn mechanic in the pair's hometown of Tiger Island), their friends are sure it's the perfect match. But Colette tires of her unfulfilling bank teller's job and can't tolerate Paul's enthusiastic participation in the cult of Saturday night fistfighting or his habit of dancing (and, she suspects, enjoying further intimacies) with other women--not to mention his perfect satisfaction with his job (""He has no ambition,"" she complains. ""Fifty years from now he'll still be knee-deep in machine oil""). Threatening divorce, Colette flees to California, followed soon afterward by the contrite yet still feisty Paul. More complications in their stormy relationship, coupled with the inability of each to adapt to West Coast work- and life-styles, send them separately back to Tiger Island and a succession of crises (including Colette's encounter with a cottonmouth moccasin and Paul's perilous adventures both with an overheated boiler and a shrimp boat caught in a storm) that end with the two back where we know they've belonged from the beginning: together, whether they drive each other crazy or not. Though it's more than a little overplotted, Gautreaux's pitch-perfect account of the Thibodeauxes' bumpy road to love is powered by abundant energy and charm and by a townful of vividly rendered supporting characters (Paul's laconic reality instructors, his father and grandfather, lead a memorable parade of locals). And the story is set in a workingman's world that's fully, credibly, and (to the nonmechanical reader) sometimes even confusingly detailed. As a storyteller, and especially as one with such a good eye for character, Gautreaux looks like one of the best writers to have emerged in the 1990s. A fine first novel.