In contrast to this first novel's foreground event--the exuberantly sweaty affair of a middle-aged university professor and a young student--is a more muted, cool examination of the plight of a woman hobbled in life by her experience of love as obligation: weighty, serious, and "hard work." Divorced Elizabeth Lashley, well placed in an English university in the field of child psychology, had a happy childhood as one of three adopted daughters of a successful merchant, who indulged her, and an adoring mother--who needed her desperately after the death of an older child when Elizabeth was seven. Early on, Elizabeth had been "impaled on the pin of guilt, destined to continue forever pierced and spinning." Guilt was the price paid for Mother's extravagant love. Elizabeth began the straggle to prove her own worth--by exemplary behavior and schoolwork and always pleasing. But her father's business will be in ruins before his death; Elizabeth will become the sole support of a weak husband and her mother; and her handicapped baby (a curse from her unknown bloodlines?) will die. After a stint as overworked "advisor" to parents of deficient children (there's some shrewd, caustic commentary on the gulf between jargon-jellied social-work procedures and the wretched needy), there is a period of calm, neutral living, and then--with Mother dead and Elizabeth divorced--the position at the university. At the close, there will also be pleasure and sex--without obligation--and a hairpin turn toward Elizabeth's liberation. Despite a tendency here to skimp on character and to crowd incident arbitrarily, there is also a sturdy thread of concentration on the curious complexity of love that becomes a burden too heavy to bear.