The fantasy-fueled escape odyssey of a woman trapped by an unhappy marriage and the fearful mothering of a retarded child--delivered with a bright surface verisimilitude but little subtlety in theme or characterization. Sally Bryan, wife of coolly indifferent Bob and mother of seriously retarded 13-year-old Mattie, takes eight-year-old Janie and heads east from their Berkeley home to a vacation in Sun Valley--back to the good times of her college summers, to jogging her painting style out of a restrictive realism, maybe out to a new life: Sally, you see, is into serious ""pretending"" that she's not going back to Bob and Mattie. But along the way, past and present hurts stalk Sally's cringing ego: callous remarks by Bob and family that underscore a silent accusation--that somehow Sally was responsible for Mattie's handicap; public embarrassments; Bob's airy dismissal of Mattie's accelerating problems; Sally's own frighteningly violent recoil from Mattie's maturing sexuality. And once at Sun Valley--with odds and ends of friends from the old days (including one rekindled old flame) and a doomed attempt to find a job--the escape fantasies sour, as Sally suffers recurrent night-dreams of broken china, blood, and a mysterious empty room. Her one worthy new acquaintance: genial ""cowboy"" Doug, who's curiously insistent that they visit the ranch where he lives with brother Frank. The reason? Frank's wife Karen, like Sally, is pinioned by guilt--over the drowning death of a young daughter. Thus, Sally tells grieving Karen--""Don't give all your love to a lost child . . . it will ruin everything""--and finally, back home, she abandons previous roles and plans a move into genuine selfhood, with a difficult but reality-grounded future. Doty, in a marked improvement over her first novel, A Day Late (1980), does capture the fantasy-hopping--playful to frantic--of a love-starved mind on hold; and the surroundings (the fired glitter of empty resort-living, clichÃ‰d suburban rites) are well-sketched too. Unfortunately, however, the voyage-to-awareness structure here is bluntly predictable; the Sally/Karen theme-knitting is rather too contrived; the characterizations--except for Sally herself--remain shallow. And the result is an intense yet finally unsatisfying psychological-crisis novel, with more than a few sharply involving moments.