Sheri Holman, . . Atlantic Monthly, $24 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-900-9

Set in the jittery postboom present, in Three Chimneys, Va., this inventive, offbeat novel by Holman (The Dress Lodger), weaves a deft consideration of American history and political ideals into an exuberantly eccentric tale of smalltown life. With the help of fertility drugs, Manda Frank has just given birth prematurely to 11 babies, and the whole town is reveling in the media attention. But Manda can't quite bond with her fragile brood and feels besieged by their "glittering black fathomless eyes, full of seawater and accusation." Meanwhile, Manda's neighbor Margaret Prickett, about to lose her 18th-century dairy farm, strives desperately for face time with Gov. Adams Brooke, who is running for president on a profarm platform. So obsessed is Margaret with Brooke's candidacy that she blinds herself to 13-year-old daughter Polly's dangerously blooming crush on her American history teacher, as well as to a declaration of love by farmhand August Vaughn, a "living historian" who dresses up as Thomas Jefferson. Then the Frank babies start to die, the cameras leave town and the mood turns ugly. August's father, Pastor Leland Vaughn, comes up with a diversionary tactic: Margaret will recreate the 1,235-pound wheel of cheese presented to Jefferson by Massachusetts Baptists and deliver it to the newly elected President Brooke. What ensues on the banks of the Potomac is unconvincingly violent, but it's the only misstep in a work that dazzles with its combination of history, religion, political satire and tragedy. Every character here is a delicately nuanced, vivid creation—even Margaret's cows, standing "dreamily by like bobbi-soxers, chewing their bright pink Bazooka cud." Agent, Molly Friedrich. (Aug.)

Forecast:This is a departure for Holman, whose previous two novels were historical. Here she proves herself adept at contemporary settings as well, while retaining a historical angle. Backed by a $100,000 promo budget and a 12-city author tour, the novel may very well match the success of The Dress Lodger, which has sold more than 200,000 copies to date.