The seemingly inexhaustible potential for mothers to ruin daughter's lives--even if it's by dying young--is probed in a novel that tries to be warm, wise, and moving, but without much success. Scofield (Opal on Dry Ground, 1994, etc.) assembles a strong cast of supporting characters to tell the story of a woman obsessed with her mother's early death. But the weakest figures here, unfortunately, are the two protagonists: mother Emma and daughter Lucy, whose self-destructive and self-absorbed lives evoke more impatience than sympathy--even when Emma has to abandon her dream career and the grown Lucy's family walks out on her. Now 45, Lucy, still unhappy and yearning to understand why her life seems so wretched, tells a story framed by two photographs: one taken of her mother in May 1938, full of promise, and another of herself as a baby in the 1940s. Emma, a blond beauty, dreams of leaving her home in New Mexico and going to Hollywood in search of stardom. Then she meets Hollis, a screenwriter on location in the desert, and accepts his invitation to come to California. But she loses her virginity in a barely credible manner and becomes pregnant, cutting short her burgeoning movie career that kindly Hollis has been nursing along. Back in New Mexico with mother Greta and sister Opal, she gives birth to Lucy, marries someone else, and dies in her early 30s without sharing her past with her daughter. Which of course explains why Lucy has been unhappy, unfaithful in her marriage to academic Gordon, and not a good mother to daughter Laurie. A traffic accident, in which Lucy is badly injured and after which Gordon and Laurie abandon her, leads to the predictable catharsis. Lucy rallies, and, after finally learning the truth about Mom--and Dad--feels ""able to live a real life"" at last. Shallow and schematic. Not Scofieid's best.