In another quietly brilliant gem, the incomparably subtle Brookner (Altered States, 1997, etc.) puts soft, revealing touches on the face of loneliness as only the elderly know it. As in her recent A Private View (1995), the predicament of the aging is highlighted through generational contrast and conflict, although here the protagonist is female, while the youth who rocks her boat is all but sexless. Thea May is a woman of propriety, from her neat hair down to her sensible shoes. Widowed for 15 years after having married late, she's lived much of her life alone in London, and contacts with her late husband's well-to-do family, to whom she was never close for a variety of reasons, have become so ritualized by her aloofness as to barely ruffle the surface of her existence. When sister-in-law Kitty calls to ask for help in an unusual way, though, by putting up--for a week at least--the best man before her granddaughter's unexpected wedding, still waters begin to churn. And when Steve, a polite drifter with no plans for the future, moves in, Thea feels a shift in the wind even as she struggles against it. Steve and his friends might as well be visitors from another planet, so entirely do their views differ from those of Thea and Kitty's generation. But the preparations go on apace, as Thea, in spite of herself, comes to see refracted in Steve's rootlessness something strangely familiar. By the day of the wedding he's out of her life, at her insistence, but the inner turmoil he's created remains. Impulsively, Thea plans to travel herself--only to change her mind as good sense and habit regain control. Signaling profound upheaval with the slightest turn of phrase and imparting wisdom through the most trivial detail, Brookner continues her long, nuanced look at human isolation.