THE LIZARD'S SMILE by Joaoa Ubaldo Ribeiro, translated by Clifford E. Landers (Atheneum: $21; 355 pp.). It makes sense--that countries with good beaches should also produce beach reading. "The Lizard's Smile" certainly fits that genre, a Brazilian novel set in Bahia that's half sci-fi thriller, half comedy of manners, and ultimately less than the sum of its parts. The book--deftly translated by Clifford Landers--begins with biologist-turned-fishmonger Joao Pedroso discovering a two-tailed lizard that appears to grin, then doctor-turned-politician Angelo Marcos Barreto discovering an odd cancer in his lower intestine. The reader directly forgets this portentous-promising opening, though, for soon Joaoa Ubaldo Ribeiro becomes wrapped up in detailing the passionate, unanticipated love affair between Pedroso and Ana Clara, Barreto's wife. Ribeiro eventually returns to the novel's controlling plot, which involves strange creatures brought about by genetic engineering, but his heart doesn't seem to be in it; Ribeiro is more at home describing the vagaries of personal interaction than the intricacies of science, his discussions of the latter often reading like lectures. "The Lizard's Smile" is captivating at times nonetheless, for some of the domestic scenes--especially the very sexy encounters between Ana Clara and Joao, and the angry ones between Barreto and Ana Clara--could be outtakes from an Almadovar film. This is one novel where less--less plot, less exegesis, less theatricality--would have been more.