The effete and seriously unreliable narrator of this clever, sprightly, but hollow third novel is 40-year-old Hugo Whittier, a failed writer with Buerger's disease -- a condition that will soon kill him if he continues to smoke. And, as he puts it, ''Smoking is the love of my life.'' Living (or rather, dying) in majestic isolation in his ancestral home on the Hudson River, he cooks himself elaborate, solitary meals, reads M.F.K. Fisher, and fills notebooks with nasty, astute observations about everything. Arrogant and misanthropic, he is horrified when his congenial brother -- fleeing a disintegrating marriage -- moves in, followed by his own estranged wife (''that jolie-laide, bucktoothed Polish flat-chested bitch'') and 10-year-old daughter. Hugo's snotty monologues are ''Lament'''s chief delight; they may also inspire you to throw the book across the room.