In 1979, before facing dreaded surgery, Alice Hoye summers with her teenaged daughter Flora in what once was their family home, on an island off the western Canadian coast. Alice is mulling over past seasons of self-abasement and rage, remembering the early 1970s--when her artist/teacher husband Peter announced he was leaving her, not really for other women but ""for myself."" The Alice of those bygone times flounders through her writing, her quirky friendships with various self-serving hip types on the island, while Peter (dismissing 14 years of marriage as ""vegetation"") twinkle-toes off to have artsy, flaky affairs with Alice's friends and acquaintances in his mainland digs. Alice recalls how she carried on--trying to keep the women's friendship intact, offering love and comfort to a weird, soft-voiced hippie couple, doing the earth-mother bit. She remembers mourning the loss of Peter (who remained an attentive father to their three dimly drawn children), eventually erupting in anger at his jerky hypocrisy, losing herself in tokes, soup, and sex. And, back in 1979, Alice expounds for Flora on the movements of intertidal creatures, male and female--pondering crablike human evasions, the fecklessness of that 1972 crowd. Thomas (Blown Figures, Mrs. Flood) is often bright and funny when skewering the bygone hip culture; the environs are appealing and convincing. But, as in her previous fiction, Thomas' prose frequently strains and stumbles here--into lumpish puns, florid sexual yearnings, ungainly rhetoric (""the awful clairvoyance of the committed heart,"" etc.). And the characterizations--especially that of irritating, dippy Peter (one wonders why Alice misses him at all)--are too shallow to support Thomas' rather weighty, ambitious concept.