You just watch: "Kiss Mommy Goodbye" is going to be the beauty parlor book of the year, and why not? It's the perfect thing to read while your hair is drying, a novel uncomplicated by style or grace or subtlety or wit. It falls into a sure-fire category, that of domestic terror/adventure. Joy Fielding, an obvious disciple of Mary Higgins Clark, gives us a version of housewifery riddled with peril. The book says, as do all books of this ilk, "See? And you thought life in the pantry was dull, didn't you?"

But the peril upon which Fielding builds is timely, too: child-snatching by the parent who didn't get custody. "Kiss Mommy Goodbye" gives just a teensy sidelong look at this growing and serious problem, but we'll all reach for the book anyway because this is what it's said to be "about" (if by "about" you mean -- and most people do -- the book's plot).

Plot is always important in fiction, of course, but execution, characterization, meaning, and, oh, lots of other things ought to matter more. It is only in beauty parlor books that what happens is more important than why it happens or who makes it happen or how what happens is revealed.

That is not as highfalutin as it sounds. The truth is that most of us sometimes want a book like "Kiss Mommy Goodbye" the way we sometimes want a Slurpee. What rubs about "Kiss Mommy Goodbye," though, is that what happens isn't really believable, and that makes it the lowest (highest?) form of beauty parlor book. Even in escape fiction, probability is not too much to ask.

Total lack of probability, however, does invite reader participation. We can choose our very own favorite plot lapse, the moment when we couldn't help but dig a pencil out of our pocket and scrawl "Come on!" in the book's margin (since shouting is frowned upon in beauty parlors.)

My favorite is that Mel, the man who rescues Donna from her dreadful marriage, the man who loves her, a physician who presides over her slide into madness without even once suggesting that she see a shrink.

Your favorite might be the part where Donna and Mel, who have been scouring the state of California (having come from Florida to do this) in search of the children, get, at long last, an actual street address. A street address where a man resembling Donna's ex is said to be living with two kids who might well be the ones. Donna ("Come on!" ) balks at going because she and Mel had already been to the town, a scant hour away.

Then again, maybe you'll choose the part where Donna contracts Rocky Moutain spotted fever just hours after the tick is removed and, oh God, just minutes behind ex and the kiddies now.

Or . . . oh, never mind. This really could go on all day. What is important for us, as readers, to note is that failure on this basic level of plot must not matter very much. "Kiss Mommy Goodbye" is going to sell big anyway. It is already in no small measure a success, published in large quantity by a major house and selected as an alternate, by the Literary Guild.

In some ways, but unfortunately in scattered ways, "Kiss Mommy Goodbye" does deliver. The arguments between Donna and her husband, for instance, are recorded with a kind of fury. These, we believe. The ways Fielding dramatizes Donna's occasional madness are convincing and therefore effective. But -- and don't toss this off as merely snide -- the best thing about "Kiss Mommy Goodbye" is its title.