Fay Weldon, . . Atlantic Monthly, $23 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-796-8

Originally commissioned by Bulgari, the Italian jewelry company, as a novel to be circulated privately to clients, Weldon's latest breaks new (and deeply controversial) ground in its cross-fertilization of art and marketing. Condemn Weldon as they may, it will be hard for reviewers to entirely dismiss the wickedly entertaining fiction that results. Covering familiar territory, the prolific, irreverent writer (Rhode Island Blues; The Life and Loves of a She-Devil; etc.) crafts a deliciously witty and compulsively readable romp through the hearts (and beds) of four intelligent, flawed characters who want what they want and get what they deserve. Grace Salt (née McNab), the wronged middle-aged ex-wife of millionaire developer Barley Salt, still suffers pangs of longing for him despite his recent marriage to Doris Dubois, the ambitious, youthful host of a TV arts program. "If I did not hate her I expect I would quite like her," Grace muses—of course, she's just been released from prison for attempting to run Doris down in a parking lot. The three inadvertently meet at a charity event hosted by Lady Juliet Random, in which a portrait of the socialite wearing a custom-made Bulgari necklace, painted by the young and handsome Walter Wells, is up for auction. Grace, the highest bidder, walks away with the portrait and the painter's heart; Walter's romanticization of Grace as a "blown rose" transmutes quickly into as true a love as Weldon may believe in. The acquisitive and increasingly malicious Doris leaves with her heart set on snagging the necklace—and gaining revenge for losing the painting. Weldon's prose is both wonderfully expressive and economical throughout, and her slightly disappointing ending will easily be forgiven. (Nov.)

Forecast:Weldon is trying to eat her cake and have it, too, and she may very well succeed. She tosses in enough slyly self-mocking references (from the title on in) to confuse rabid critics, but her homage to Bulgari has more than satisfied her corporate sponsors. Expect plenty of saber-rattling debate over this title, and better-than-average sales.