METAPHYSICAL high comedy is stalking the land and headed for your nearest bookstore. Francine Prose casts her unerring sociological eye on supermarket sleaze journalism in this novel about a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn who spends her days spinning fantasies for the great unwashed. Vera Perl is 37, separated from an aging hippie husband, and the sole support of a 10-year-old daughter who is never out of her Walkman. Vera tries to tell herself that "there's a world out there, a world in which every dog isn't eating newborn babies," but she really doesn't believe it. How can she, when she spends her days writing features like CRAZED KENNEL OWNER FEEDS STRAYING SPOUSE TO PINSCHER PUPS?

As her personal life goes from bad to worse, Vera takes comfort in her own supermarket fantasy of Bigfoot as a gentle messiah figure, a combination husband and father with the power to make her feel safe and protected and give her "the warm bath of pleasure other women must slip into when their husbands unplug drains and pay bills." Vera needs Bigfoot as never before when she writes a story to go with a picture taken by the paper's staff photographer and her sometime lover. Driving through Brooklyn, he saw a brother and sister selling lemonade in front of their restored Victorian home. It reminds Vera so much of her own happy childhood that she invents a story called FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH FLOWS IN BROOKLYN BACK YARD and claims that the family's water tap contains magical properties.

Since the story must seem to be true, she also invents names and occupations. Knowing that "half the white kids in Brooklyn are named Megan and Joshua," she settles on these, and since the house is obviously upscale, she makes their father a cardiologist named Milton Green.

To her horror, it turns out that the house really is owned by a cardiologist named Milton Green, and the two little entrepreneurs are his children, Megan and Joshua. As soon as the paper hits the checkout stands, the Greens are besieged by mobs begging for a drink of water, Mrs. Green is attacked when she makes the mistake of hosing down the lawn, Dr. Green is hauled up before the medical ethics board, and little Megan and Joshua suffer so much debilitating shock and tension that they become brattier than ever.

When the Greens sue the newspaper, the idealistic Vera decides to go see them and talk things over in a civilized fashion, but Dr. Green calls her a "sleazo Lois Lane" and throws her out. As she walks dejectedly away from the house, the Greens' hypochondriac neighbor buttonholes her and confides that the water actually has cured her and two other ladies on the block. Presented with this proof of the power of faith, Vera decides that the paper hasn't done anything that the Bible didn't do first: TALKING SNAKE CONS WIFE, HUBBY HOMELESS; BROTHER KILLS BROTHER AT SADO SACRIFICE; GROOM WAITS SEVEN YEARS, MARRIES WRONG WOMAN.

Rushing back to the office, she hits her publisher with her ideas: Run the cure story and make the Greens public domain so they can't sue. WHILE LEGAL matters unfold, Vera's life hits new lows. Her errant husband returns and suggests that they bottle the Greens' water, or any water, and sell it. This is the same man who turned their honeymoon into a search for ancient Mayan buried treasure, who left her stranded in Mexico with a near-terminal case of diarrhea, and who is now ghosting the memoirs of an ex-Mafia member whose comrades have threatened to turn both of them into real ghosts. Next, her daughter's ballet recital is interrupted by a gang of karate students who have hired the same hall. As the student orchestra tries futilely to compete with the screams and crashes of the black belts, Vera reflects: "According to a recent This Week poll, half the American people think everything that happens on earth may be stored forever in some galaxy, and she hates thinking that this moment may survive for eternity."

On the verge of collapse, she accepts an invitation to visit her old girlfriend Louise, who lives in a remote area of the Pacific Northwest, the stamping grounds of the "real" Bigfoot and of the members of the Cryptobiology Society who are engaged in looking for him. Boarding a plane for Seattle on which she gets drunk, Vera decides to throw in her lot with the cryptobiologists and search for her savior.

Do not be surprised if your supermarket stands start screaming PROSE PERFECT WRITER FINDS LAUGHING CURE, BOOKSTORES MOBBED. Francine Prose has taken the now-tired cliche' of the post-feminist single mother and turned it into a laser beam of American psychology and a divining rod of the underground springs that nourish our national illusions. The ballet recital scene alone is worth the price of the book; it's the funniest commentary on self-improvement through one's children since Fannie Brice's "Light As a Feather" routine.