Kate Wilson
April 01, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Cindy Bonner’s novel, Looking After Lily, is good stuff: no pretense, no preciousness, but an intelligent, humane story about a guy with too much energy and too little sense. It’s 1884, and young Haywood Beatty is stuck tending his brother’s steely, brainy, pregnant wife, Lily. Haywood drags Lily through a thousand schemes and most of Texas, and of course, falls for her. Though the plot’s hokey (a testosterone-addled scamp purified by love), Bonner makes it real enough that you ache. And pain and joy alike are bent slightly through Haywood’s wryness: He disdains a woman’s funereal ”wide-brimmed hatty hat” and describes a newborn’s looks with, ”Ears seemed kind of big and flapping out.” His earnestness is cumulatively funny: Single sentences are clever, but 20 pages’ worth are delicious. Bonner’s people are delicious too-mulish, funny, bleak, and real. A

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