After years of indifference, Miss Stead's The Man Who Loved Children is now safely marked as a minor classic, a picture of family life at once brutal, compassionate, and funny. Two other works, The House of All Nations and The Salzburg Tales, while not complete triumphs, are notable examples of narrative skill and peculiar psychological insight. Dark Places of the Heart is much more difficult to classify, both thematically and aesthetically. Like her best novel, it is a hurdy gurdy of domestic crises, strewn with slashing, colorful speech, vigorous rhythms and social detail. Yet it has a strangely melancholic air and an uncertain jumble of incidents, as if the author were never sure either of her descriptive powers or of the intended emotional design. Basically it turns upon the symbiotic relations of a brother and sister in post-war London; Nellie, an aging, garrulous scold, burdened with socialistic dreams, a dim marriage, and frustrating friendships; and Tom, a charming knock-about, sexually ambivalent, mourning a lost love, sucked into tacky affairs, wildly dancing, as Nellie puts it, ""in a hall of mirrors."" Each seems to suffer from illusions, the pilferage of time, and the wreckage of ambition. Nellie winds up a widow, Tom finally marries. Blanketed with excessive characters, never really modern (the tone is alternately like Dickens, Joyce, Lawrence), and lacking pertinent structure, the final impression is of something windy, inchoate, too private.