Variable Cloud ($24.00; Jul. 18, 1996; 374 pp.; 1-86046-061-5): A chronicle of female friendship, expressed largely through an exhaustive exchange of letters between two women who resume their long-dormant intimacy when each must grapple with the demons of middle age and unravelling relationships. Sofia, a wife and mother who leaves her mercenary, emotionless husband, and Mariana, a psychiatrist who can't help obsessing over her depressive lover, share their views on sex, politics, literature, and many other topics in a discursive, allusive correspondence and communion that is, alternately, absorbingly dramatic and painfully dull. This ambitious 1992 novel from one of Spain's leading writers (now translated into English for the first time) was a major success in Gaite's homeland, but may find a relatively lukewarm response in a culture where feisty criticisms of lamebrained machismo are not a novelty.