Cassandra King's new novel, The Sunday Wife, a tale of a woman who doesn't belong in the place where she finds herself and the like-minded misfits she befriends, is one of those books that keeps you up till three in the morning and makes you wake up three hours later to pick up where you left off.

Dean (Willodean) Lynch is the wife of Ben, pastor of the Methodist church in Crystal Springs, Florida. Uneasy in both Crystal Springs and her marriage, the mousy, middle-aged and endlessly self-deprecating Dean is still determined, like the foster child she was, to make the best of things. But the world she struggles to make tidy is upended forever when she meets the Holderfields the handsome Maddox and his madcap wife Augusta, a woman who is as out of place in Crystal Springs as Dean is, but gets away with it because of the position her husband's wealthy and powerful family holds in the town.

Dean is immediately smitten, first by Augusta's beauty and then by her sheer bad-girl recklessness. One of the funniest scenes in this frequently funny book is when she and Dean rush down to a marina to warn Augusta's two-timing friend of the imminent arrival of his wife and son, and end up spending the night on his boat. Augusta makes Dean see that her own horizons can open up, despite Crystal Springs and the appalling Ben, who is so priggish, self-centered and utterly lacking in empathy the reader may wonder, first, how Dean could have stood being married to this hateful creep for 20 years and, second, when he's going to meet the horrible death he deserves. Unfortunately, Ben isn't the one who buys it, and the novel's central tragedy throws Dean's life, and the lives of her friends, onto paths they couldn't have foreseen.

King, the wife of novelist Pat Conroy, is a graceful writer, and her descriptions of people, places and things range from delicate to deadly; the seafood meals depicted in the book made this reviewer go out and buy oysters for bisque, and the scenes of beaches in moonlight and sunlight are achingly beautiful. King also excels at keeping the plot cooking, page after page. The Sunday Wife is a tasty and irresistible treat. Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.

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