The novels Adams writes, such as Superior Women (1984) and Caroline's Daughters (1991), are upholstered with mores: what people drink, eat, look at from windows, say at parties in well-educated Bay Area circles. But these cultural habits less reveal her fictional character than keep them stilled, fixed--and so, in this book, about a woman's love affair with an attractive man who goes over the edge into decrepitude and mental illness, Adams is, laudably, trying something slightly against her own grain. Stella Blake is a self-effacing journalist, just beginning to develop a reputation, when she meets Richard Fallon, a freelance designer and just about the most attractive, self-assured man she's ever known. How Richard would also be drawn to Stella's much mousier self is an odd magnetism Adams doesn't quite convincingly capture (maybe it's because Stella is half-Mexican, though Richard apparently is easily attracted to anybody, female or male)--but an affair does commence. During it, Richard often is ardent, caring, and generous--and also, in his dark side, unfaithful and unpredictable, given to odd outbursts and strange behaviors. Stella hangs in there, until Richard removes himself altogether. Meanwhile, Stella's San Francisco circle acts like a murmuring chorus, wondering what makes Richard tick. Adams, though, is no great psychologist as a novelist; a reader watches anguish but is not much slipped under the skin of it. Plus there's not enough narrative drive or drama here. Ambitious but finally tepid.