The long-term marriage of a polished, professional African-American couple turns to nightmare as their finances unravel and their extended family falls apart. The setting is Atlanta, where Mel Burke, 37, is a well-liked marketing rep for the Chamber of Commerce, and her husband Builder, 40, owns a construction business. Their friends are members of the city's black elite; their daughter, Sasha, 13, attends its poshest private school. But when Mel is laid off in a Chamber ""downsizing"" and can no longer cover the monthly household bills, it becomes starkly clear that Builder's business is a mess; he's quietly gone through the family savings and taken a second mortgage on the house. Soon he and Mel, fighting bitterly, face repossession, foreclosure, and disgrace--unless Mel can bring herself to borrow proffered money from her flush brother Maxx, a Harvard Law grad and former family hero who now defends drug dealers. But Mel is too proud--in fact, she's something of a self-appointed arbiter of fight and wrong for the whole family, a stiff-necked noncommunicator who also holds a grudge against her strong, handsome mother for favoring Maxx as she was growing up. When the going gets really tough (the Burkes have been turned down for bankruptcy protection, and Builder, drunk one night, assaults and rapes her), Mel takes off to Seattle to save her skin. For three months she recuperates in the handsomely provisioned waterside house of her white college roommate, has an affair with the roommate's former Native American lover, and rests; then, when the love affair sours and Maxx is found shot to death, the victim of a mugging, Mel rushes back to Atlanta, where she reconciles with Builder and her mother. Richly detailed and at times quite gripping. But also overwrought, its characters underdeveloped--in the end, Mel, meant to be a heroine, seems mostly a pain.