Christina Stead has had a certain succes d'estime to date. This is her first book set in America; it deals with an American family, the Pollitts, a distasteful lot; and it is indefensibly a bad book. Her non-stop prose style becomes garbled and incoherent, as the Pollitts jaw and jar, rant and wrangle, with a turbulence which defies the reader. The father is the central figure of the brood of six, and invests himself with a godly paternalism, which is viciously parasitic. Unhappy days come -- the family loses caste; the father loses his job, they move from Washington to a life of increasing squalor in Baltimore. Viciousness -- tyranny -- murder mark the action of the final hundred pages. Up to that time, seven hundred pages of vulgar, strident warfare have discouraged the most optimistic diehard readers.