THE BRIDE WHO RAN AWAY<i> by Diana O’Hehir (Washington Square Press / Pocket Books: $6.95) </i>

“Grazia: How can you be a Dowell and be so free of despair?,” Steve writes to his first cousin and fiance Grace Dowell, the novel’s narrator. “An optimistic Dowell . . . is not natural.”

The Dowell clan is indisputably an eccentric lot. Grace’s great-aunt Sybil may be certifiably mad, and Grace’s older cousin Steve--handsome, possibly brilliant, and definitely impenetrable--is pretentious and unpleasant.

Grace, a bright, well-adjusted 19-year-old, has been in love with Steve since age 3. Now her aunt Sybil and a fortuneteller named Fleesha the Futurist are warning her to break loose from a “Disastrous Attachment.”

And, when Grace discovers a mysterious connection between Steve and the suicide of a newly married second cousin, she becomes “the bride who ran away.”

A friend from childhood, David “Duke” McCracken, himself has reasons to flee after witnessing a crime implicating his older brothers. So the fugitive and the runaway stumble from truck stops to casinos in Reno to low-grade diners, always just one step ahead of the law.

A tale both merry and sad of innocence lost and personal declarations of independence.