In her second novel, Beattie's dessicated people--blunted, wobbling in the lassitude of vague guilts, playing their pinball impulses for bonanza relationships that never quite light up--again drift together in random accident from glossy suburbia to junky Manhattan. The marriage of ad-man John and wife Louise is eddying into nullity as John travels the highways through his week: from the Connecticut home shared with Louise and their two older kids; to the Rye, N.Y., home of John's alcoholic mother, where their youngest child has somehow been settled in permanently; to the apartment of mistress Nina (who works at Lord & Taylor) in Manhattan. John is only casually committed to Nina--until an incident at home drives him into fearful hiding: itchy, foul-mouthed, 15-year-old daughter Mary is shot from a tree by fat, ten-year-old son John Joel. (John Joel didn't know that the gun, given to him by a monstrous peer, was loaded, but he certainly hates his sister--something she calmly accepts while recovering in the hospital.) The shooting of Mary propels John right into Nina's arms, and it also causes ripples that lead to new arrangements for everyone: Louise tags after a woman friend; two friends of Nina's--grad-student Cynthia and lover Spangle (who has almost finished blowing his inherited money)--get back together; and others (a chattering prof, a kook magician) mill around amiably. As always, Beattie's zapping dialogue is extraordinary, and the landscape--seen through splintered vision and blurred through the blab of car radios--edges on a nihilistic madness. But while often sharply effective at short-story length, the spectacle of Beattie's people--immobile lumps endlessly falling in place on their pointed heads--is a claustrophobic, static one; only grad-student Cynthia, who teaches summer-school English to kids "too cool to care," provides a little welcome distance. Rather enervating, then, but also sad, bleakly humorous, and often chilling.