Although the marital show-downs in this droning story of a family breakup do accumulate an appropriate tension, the characters are rarely cut deeper than their stiff-jointed declarations to one another. Young Dan Mallon, ""brilliant"" freshman at an Illinois university, is suddenly summoned home by mother Virginia and younger sisters Leslie and lane. The news? ""Your father has walked out on us."" And in spite of the family's insistence that he stay in school and keep his scholarship, Dan is soon getting the message: Mom really wants him to take over as Man and Breadwinner. Then follows a lengthy flashback reconstructing the courtship and marriage of the Mallons: attractive Virginia McClure, adored by her widowed father (a St. Louis insurance tycoon), is wooed by handsome, gentle Michael Mallon, who makes such a fine impression on Papa McClure that he's taken into the insurance business as a (nervous, reluctant) salesman; Papa provides a grand house and the newlyweds seem to be St. Louis society's most envied couple; but failure dogs Michael, who never fulfills his career promise; and when Michael is involved as an ""innocent bystander"" in a gay bar shooting, there's a break with Papa McClure--as loyal Virginia storms away with Michael and three children to years of strain and near-poverty, with job after job, Michael's accelerated drinking, and hints that he is drifting into the gay world. hen, back to the present, for Dan's final decision to leave school and--thanks to little sister Leslie--a tearful reconciliation between Papa McClure and Virginia. (But if Grandpa puts strings on financial help, Dan tells him, ""You can take your damn money and shove it up your ass."") Dan is, well, somewhat tiresome; the others, except occasionally Michael and Virginia at war, are stiff as boards; and this is a sad marital round overall, fiat as a pancake, without the religious-life specifics that partially redeemed Christman's first novel, Flesh and Spirit (1979).