An odd novel, one that seems to circle and circle until you think it will never land and strike--one that, when it's done, leaves a strange, elusive impression. Smith (The Middleman, The Death of the Detective) sets up camp among a colony of married, professional, suburban people in New Hampshire. Party-talk there consists mostly of reports on gourmet foods, Europe, ecology, and abortion. And Smith's wandering focus wanders most often toward one couple--the Kevilles, Toby and Sarah. She's beautiful, wholesome, blond; he's youthful, Harvard, a real-estate developer. Sarah thinks life is long, that eventually she'll get around to doing something worthwhile--but she's wrong: she's struck down by a mysterious infection that leads to terminal liver injury, and very soon she's dead. This isn't, however, a book about the manifest unfairness of such a foreshortened life; Smith allows a chapter or two on Sarah's dying feelings, but mostly he seems to use Sarah as a pin that, once withdrawn, collapses the precious, just-so structure of friends and family around her. Certain characters and scenes have mythic overtones: an anesthesiologist/friend who keeps a garden of herbs and also one of deadly plants, like Hawthorne's Dr. Rappacini; a novelist named Stargaard; a mountain hike that Sarah takes as she's beginning to weaken; the blue delphiniums Toby associates with her; a party in which a few of the wives taunt one of the husbands about vasectomy and playfully proceed to pull down his pants. And these resonant facets make the book faintly disquieting, not what it seems. But the story itself really doesn't manage to tip us down into this subterranean level; no dramatic center is ever really tapped, the focus is too quickly shredded and loosely strewn about. Smith's subtleties are rich and worthy; most readers, however, will never get in touch with them, too put off by his failure to face his characters head-on, his strangely inertial use of them as apparent archetypes.