Miserere--this retreat with about six nuns and one prurient priest in a California convent, falling away day by day, is as recessive as the life there which is in turn a reduction of the world outside to pain, loneliness and violence. Barbara Austin is a young writer (cf. the much less controlled, autobiographical Sad Nun at Synanon--1970) and this too owes as much to the confessional booth as to the fictional demands of the novel which only gets token acknowledgement here. It takes place in insets: you will meet, recurrently, Sister James who keeps her money in an ice cube tray in the basement where she also smokes before she commits suicide; old Sister Bede living in ""death's pocket"" with her cats and a canary found strung up; Annie, the lesbian, with her craving for an unequivocal love; Maura who left the world when her young man died in the surf only to become the object of Father McPherson's everpresent lust; and the Reverend Mother who watches TV soap operas all day behind closed doors. The author sees this through the uncompromising eyes of the vulnerable young; it's a curious, flagellant view of bald heads, doubting minds, ""discipline and mortification"" under a coif which is only a simulacrum of chaste serenity.