It is the worst of times for Renato Tizzoni, waterworks man of the almost-too-charming Tuscan town of Sant' Angelo D'Asso and protagonist of Shapiro's engaging first novel. Tizzoni's surrogate father has just died, and his teenaged daughter, the petulant Petula, is wrapped up in her boyfriend, Daniele, of the ill-mannered Mangiavacchi family. Tizzoni seems to have lost his zest for life and, worst of all, the town he has lived all his days is slated to become a reservoir when the nearby river is dammed up to follow a government plan for irrigating local soil. By interpreting a series of vivid dreams featuring a floating hand that points him to treasure, Tizzoni decides that he must travel to Rome to shake hands with the pope while touching his behind with his other hand, thereby initiating a chain reaction leading to a stroke of luck, or ""stroke of ass"" (""colpo di culo"" in Italian slang). As he looks around him and sees the dissatisfaction of his fellow townspeople, he adds their names and dreams to a list he keeps in his back pocket and plans to touch during the fateful handshake. Word of his scheme spreads throughout the small community, and the locals band together to see him off on his venture to improve their collective future. Shapiro's penchant for describing the picturesque quaintness of the town and its inhabitants threatens to drown the story in the fond nostalgia of travelogues. But as the plot develops and the strong voices of interesting characters--including Duncan, Tizzoni's American friend, and Il Piccino, the midget who runs the newspaper stand--are introduced, the reader is drawn into the story and waits eagerly to discover how the fates of the townspeople will change with Tizzoni's ""stroke of ass."" (Apr.) FYI: Shapiro teaches English in Tuscany.