Dickinson (Waltz in Marathon, Crow) ordinarily builds his novels on the slenderest of reeds, but his latest seems no more than a long story--and once its most inviting premise runs its course, the novel flounders annoyingly. Ina and Helene are two elderly sisters, both widowed, living in separate houses in a Chicago neighborhood. Independent existence for Helene is not easy: she's a blind diabetic. And for sister Ina, life is increasingly humdrum, ripe for change. Which is why she unwisely gets involved in an altercation with a bunch of street toughs, after which some kind of temporary relocation seems a good idea. Not so prudent, though, are the specifics: she plans a car trip to California (in her husband's old car) to see both her own and Helene's grown children. The rub is that Ina can't drive. But Helene used to be able to. . .so what if Helene works the pedals and the wheel while Ina gives meticulous second-by-second visual updates? Off they go, traveling by night, a blind-woman-driver and her guide. It's a fairly wonderful conception, fully employing Dickinson's skill at portraying the sisters' relationship in old age, the still active competition for who did and didn't have the better husband. In these first pages, Dickinson reminds you of classic Wright Morris in his portrayal of a funny intimacy. But once on the road, the novelty thins; and when the sisters get to California, the whole book collapses into torpor and melodrama. Dickinson has talent to burn, but his architectural instincts are not shrewd here.