Boyd's carefully intense explorations into emotional and sexual relationships could probably have produced three or four thoroughly satisfying short stories. Instead, they uneasily share space in a novel of page-by-page energies and over. all lassitude. Parts I and III: divorced drifter Shannon, now leather-crafting in California, reads Emerson to 92-year-old Johanna, blind and proud and afraid of dying. Parts II and IV: Shannon's Carolina childhood playmates, sisters Mallory and Galley Rhett, take divergent paths out of Southern belledom--quiet Mallory astonishingly becomes the lawyer-son her father wanted; brilliant, gay Galley drops out, breaks down--but they finally reunite in a bewildered, fade-out, lesbian embrace. Shannon's Carolina homecoming fails to effect the much-needed fusion of parts, but out of the often acute, occasionally pretentious prose arise some arresting set-pieces: Shannon carries apartment-bound Johanna to the beach; Mallory rebels against Dixie and Dad by bombing an all-white beauty salon; suicidal Galley takes an LSD trip with fellow outcast Jayjay, ""who would do anything for a cock in his mouth or his asshole."" Feminist concerns are controlling here (even Johanna has a joyful little acre of Lesbos in her past) and may bring a strong sectarian response for a writer who, with sharpened senses of shape and selectivity, could eventually be getting a response from everyone.