From what may seem recalcitrant materials (lower class Jewish life in England--a mental hospital) Miss Rubens has told a story with a strong reach to the mind and the heart and the gut. She writes about Jews in the generic sense, still close to their points of origin and exodus, trapped in a circular bind of familial obligation, dependence, and guilt. And above all helplessness. But in spite of a closing invocation (""Are we Your family and did You choose us as Your scapegoat for all Your neuroses?"") one is always aware that the Jews are also their own victims, with an inner-directed genocidal impulse. Take the gentle Rabbi-grocery store owner here. In tzorras he needs no lessons. He knows them by heart: one daughter who married outside the faith; another, Bella, still at home, forty-odd with varicose veins protruding above the white ankle socks of her childhood which she has never discarded; and son Norman, a former barrister, who for years has escaped life via the white pills with which he bleaches the past only to find himself beleaguered by platoons of silverfish in the present. As the book opens Norman is taken forcibly away to the hospital, and as it progresses, or turns back, there are insets of increasing illumination and intensification--whether it's Norman's delayed bar mitzvah to gratify the pride of his parents, or Bella's muffled resentment covering a much older shame, or the gentle Rabbi's hope within hopelessness as he now tries to make the unbearable acceptable or ""nice."" An unconditionally involving book-Miss Rubens is able to transmit and transmute experience with sympathetic persuasion and power. Of how many can that be said?