A first novel about the emancipation of a stifled housewife--a story rendered here with mind-numbing talk. It's Berkeley in the 70's, and Connie is following the Patty Hearst kidnapping and conversion to the Symbionese Liberation Army cause with fascination. In Patty's oppression she seems to seek some clue to her own. Unhappily married to Howard, a cold and often brutal man, daughter of Elsie, a celebrated painter and complete narcissist, mother of two children whose lives seem to be slipping from her control, Connie feels enraged, trapped, and directionless. Enter Marc, a leftist psychologist, with whom she begins an affair. The romance comes to little, but it galvanizes Connie to change her life. She gets a job teaching English part-time at a local Catholic college, her first employment since marrying Howard 17 years before. Then she tells Howard she wants a divorce, hires a lawyer, and begins to extricate herself from the marriage. But her ultimate liberation is from hatred of her mother: When Elsie, despairing over the encroachment of old age, takes an overdose of sleeping pills, Connie rushes to her bedside and there achieves an acceptance of her mother's limitations and forgives her. She resolves to help her mother publish her journals. Connie's endless, wearing verbal tussles--with Howard; with daughter Sarah, 16, who's sleeping with her Spanish teacher; with Marc, who won't commit; with her mother--make up perhaps 75 percent of the material here. The Patty Hearst references are welcome, opening up the claustrophobic universe of the book whenever they occur, but they are few.