Beattie follows up the successful Another You (1995) with a tale of domestic grief on a low boil. Dara Falcon is the sort of woman who can easily stick in your craw. As predatory and majestic as her namesake, she manages to swoop down on poor Jean Warner and sink her talons in: "Dara Falcon was once Darcy Fisher. She either had or hadn't been a promising young actress. She either did or did not have a baby when she was sixteen." Nothing is very clear about Dara's past, and--as Jean figures out after she's known her for a while--her present life is hardly less deceptive In the small New Hampshire town where Jean lives with her husband Bob, however, Dara's sudden and unexplained appearance brings a measure of glamour that most of the locals are too dazzled to question. Passionate, charming, seductive, Dara makes a play for most of the men in town but settles for a while on Tom Van Sant, an old schoolmate of Bob's. This puts Jean in an awkward position when the two part ways, since she has to assume the most thankless of diplomatic roles as intermediary to a broken couple. When an elaborate conflict over the return of Tom's ring blows up in Jean's face and Data accuses her of disloyalty, Jean slowly begins to wonder what manner of girl she's dealing with. "It would be difficult to explain why Data and I went on to have a friendship," she concludes. "It was a friendship . . . in which I listened in desultory fashion and trusted absolutely nothing she said." Finally, a resolution is offered when a tragedy confirms Jean's suspicions about Dara's motives and priorities, and allows her to find a way out of the emotional maze of Dara's many damaging fantasies. Crisp prose with little behind it: Beattie's narrative skill nearly makes up for the paltry tale itself--but not quite.