If Beryl Bainbridge liked her losers just a little bit more, she'd write something like Bernice Rubens, that marvelous chronicler of pain responsible for Chosen People (1969). This time, peopling a coast-of-Wales village, Rubens builds her first movement to such a precariously poignant, expansively resonant climax that her development and resolution cannot help but be something of a disappointment. Amy Evans is fat, almost 60, and bitter--about never having been loved much (a homely child), about having gotten pregnant the one and only time she had sex (a French soldier during the war), about having sacrificed her life to her pretty-faced, always-loved brother Stan, who's been wheelchaired ever since a childhood case of rickets. Now Stan seems to be dying, and Amy is going for one last ""terrible hoodwinking hope""--secretly buying a pair of French trousers and putting an anonymous ad in the Classified (""Lady. Wishing to meet gentleman. . .""). At long last, a single reply--from. . . Stan Evans, who writes that he's very grateful to his sister Amy but that he's always longed for some more conjugal female companionship. Amy's first mental reaction is rather negative (""I'll fucking well break every bone in your fucking body""), but then she sees this bizarre situation as an opportunity for a ""prolonged lesson in love,"" a chance to choose a persona other than ""stifled and strangled companion,"" a chance to turn hate to love and perhaps receive some in return. If the novel ended here (on page 83), it would be incomplete but incredibly beautiful. As it is, Rubens goes on to follow this sad, erotic, ironic correspondence, which ends when Stan's insistence on a meeting with ""Bronwen Pugh"" (Amy's alias) forces Amy to some slightly farfetched measures--measures that send impatient and oddly healthy Stan into the arms of a revolting neighbor lady, leaving Amy alone with the gulls and death. A grim story? Of course. But also funny and shrewd and irrationally hopeful--and, with all its imperfections, never dishonest or manipulative or maudlin. Half as perfect as Beryl Bainbridge; twice as human.