From a bereaved mother who accompanies her second husband to a new life in the wilderness in 1750 to the trammeled artist/housewife of 1950 who buys the homestead from a descendant of the original family and later, deliberately, burns it to the ground: Crompton looks in, at 50-year intervals, on five different women who inhabit a New York state farmhouse--and who, apropos the title's second meaning, represent the American woman in her evolving roles. All five are seen in crossroads situations, and Crompton focuses on universals--a child's death, a lover's silence, a choice between marriage and self-fulfillment--while fleshing out the scenes with sturdy time-and-place-setting particulars. Unfortunately, Crompton's writing and her vision, though well rounded, are too conventional to be effectively elemental or to support the dead seriousness of her ambition. At times she overwrites and overreaches--most conspicuously in detailing a young girl's drawn-out death from tetanus. (Okay, so the scene is in close accord with recent reports of patients matched back from the brink.) Nevertheless, at least in the first four of the five episodes, the novel has something of the solidity of the house itself--and Crompton's sincerity helps to anchor the soap-opera situations.