copyright Rebecca Wells, 1997. HarperCollins. 356 pages. Adult fiction.

Well, it is fluff. Excellent fluff, along the lines of Steel Magnolias. If you know, going in, that it's a slightly silly, slightly sappy piece of fiction, and you're all right with that, you're in for a good read.

The book is mostly about women and their mothers. Not a new subject, but the book isn't predictable, either. But what happens isn't nearly as important as who you get to meet. The book is filled with women who jump and yell and do things. The setup is a little contrived - a daughter goes through her mother's scrapbook, hence a million cheesey flashbacks - but it's a good scrapbook, documenting the full lives of wild, loud, fun, fully-alive Southern ladies. They marinate on the beach. They sip the tea you'd expect them to sip. They cuss and laugh and have babies and leave their husbands and fall out and into love and make each other mad. A lot happens.

I'm not a sucker for chick books. But this one did enough things right so that, at the end, I was crying a little, and I knew enough to grab a pen and scrawl a message to my best friend inside the front cover, and I put it in the mail to her the next day. It's not great literature. But it has some excellent truths in it. And it is better than Cats.