After an initial wrong turn, this rich novel careens down a road lined with complex personalities and some wonderful scenery. Mattison (The Flight of Andy Burns, 1993, etc.) mistakenly leads off by focusing on Frances, a blank youngster who is on vacation in the 1950s with her parents, Hilda and Nathan; her Uncle Mike and Aunt Pearl, and their son Simon. Pearl and Hilda have an easy intimacy that Frances admires. She worries about her parents: A few small clues lead her to believe that she is not Hilda's only child, and Nathan, suspected of being a Communist, may lose his job. After setting all this up, Mattison flashes back to the real story--stories, actually, since the narrative combines different, interlocking tales with shifting voices and points of view. Among those stories: Pearl and Mike's first meeting when both are working in an Adirondack hotel; Nathan's early involvement in Communism and his sympathy for Spain's Loyalists; the accidental death of Nathan and Hilda's first daughter, Rachel; the crisis that comes after Nathan and Pearl make love, just once. (All four decide to overlook the transgression and pretend it never happened, despite Pearl's belief that the child she carries is her brother-in-law's, not her husband's.) When Frances finally pops up again, she interrupts the rhythm of the novel, which--as indicated by the title--turns out to be about the development of a female friendship. Mattison's characters are by turns emotional and tough as they explain how it is that people who love each other very much can hurt each other too. The author is technically accomplished--details in the flashbacks ultimately help clarify questions Frances asks in the opening pages--but her thickly layered plot hardly needs such gimmicks: Human nature supplies enough mystery on its own. Restrained and poignant drama.