A first novel that tells--solemnly if captivatingly--of a budding artist who seeks love and fulfillment despite her ignominious beginnings. She's not like other girls. At college in the early 60's, Lily Beach reveals a tragic sensibility in her dark eyes and in her clothes, ``always black or the color of bruises,'' that set her apart from her blond, sweater-setted classmates in the Art Department of the University of Iowa. Her seductive gloom, along with a compulsive need for sex that she secretly fears, attracts some strange ducks to her bed--Ted, an engineer incapable of expressing emotion; Will Sternhagen, a son of divorce unable to commit himself; and Andre Pulaski, a Paraguayan printmaker more than twice her age who chastely worships her and finally asks only to serve as her guardian angel. Lily has real talent but feels no particular need to fulfill it; she's more concerned with shaking free of the guilt caused by her mother's suicide the day after Lily told her her stepfather had tried to rape her. Therefore she drifts--first into a job with a Chicago ad agency, then into marriage to Ted, motherhood, and an empty suburban life on the sidelines of the swinging Sixties. Fortunately, though, throughout this overweight, dissatisfied part of her life, Lily's former admirers have not forgotten her. Will returns to help free her from her stultifying marriage, and Pulaski appears to reveal himself as the lover she was meant for--mere hours before his tragic death. In the end, Lily finds herself without a man (but with two children), picking up a paintbrush and dreaming of a new life lived on her own unfettered terms. Fields's prose can lack humor at the worst of times, but her portrait of the artist as a young (and aging) woman offers both a satisfying story and food for feminist thought. Like Lily herself, a strangely addictive--and intriguing--first work of fiction.