A painter named William Wiley lives with his free-spirited American family in rural Italy, making a living by writing children's books--and for years enchanting his family with the tales of Franky Furbo, an archetypal, wise old fox that Wiley claims to have spoken to during the War--and that he claims in fact to have been rescued by in body and mind. Wiley, it turns out, really believes he's had this strange encounter, despite the scoffings of psychiatrists and (much more gently) even of his own wife. It is Wharton's turn here that one waits for, the reality inversion that marks all his books (Birdy, Dad, and the much lesser works that have followed), and here it is more radical than ever. Yes, Franky Furbo exists, and his identity finally is so triumphant that you are flooded, as if by a tepid New Age shower, with a Saturday Evening Post-ish tag as well: that only uninhibited family love will save and redeem us. For the reader, diabetic coma is a possibility (be cautious) after this saccharine fantasia, which is without a sense of humor or an added dimension. Wharton's decline as an imaginative writer seems to throw him only toward wilder speculations, sillier scenarios. It's an unhappy thing to see.