The trick to rope swinging was to let go at the peak of the swing."" Journeyman off-Broadway actress Pauline, once dubbed by a critic ""the perfect Sonya in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, is the ""daredevil"" meeting risk, twisting away from love and connectedness. By the author of Daddy's Girl (1981) and other darkly comic, biting, southern regional novels, this is a sinewy, fretful tale with its tough vision of a life airborne above family, the past and even one's own inclinations. The novel opens with a flashback contest of wills between an 11-year-old Pauline and her ""joke excuse"" of a father, Jack, whose nighttime visits when she was younger gave her practice in tuning out, playing dead. Jack was attempting, on one of the family's hellish vacations, to pose her by the bared fangs of a dusty, stuffed bear. That image of the bear--an acrid ""otherness"" one just never comes close to--will one day disappear into a myth as distant--and safe--as the stars. It was Pauline's habit, both in her native Baytown, Texas, and in New York, to ""leap from one possibility to the next."" Husband Michael--a teacher/director, apparently of like mind--was one leap, and there were the lovers whom Pauline thought of as ""adventures."" it is when Pauline is summoned home, to what is expected to be Jack's dying, that she seeks out and sleeps with ""Uncle"" Will, jaunty Aunt Wanda's ex. Will, a teacher, writer and isolate, has his hermitage on the pale and rocky land by Snake Creek--which will flood as will the lovers' need. Much later, Pauline in New York--her marriage over, her abortion of Will's baby a disturbing absence, and spiritless, not working--will decide to return to Will, this time in a dust storm, to confront bone truth and to love soberly, chastely, with attention and fidelity, ""this family""--whom she will not ""let slip away the way I have some others, without ever knowing exactly who they were and how much they meant."" Although some of the New York characters seem more expedient than convincing, Lowry's skillful threading of symbols, sentiment (a Chekhov echo) and corrosive baring of both sensual and psychical verities is simply dazzling.