The first novel by Betts (Heading West, 1981) in over ten years indulges in the clichÇs of domestic melodrama--a divorced couple, the illness of their only child, the burden and joy of non- nuclear families--but it's all done in an inviting Southern voice. Unfortunately, Betts has long been outclassed by those who followed her earlier example: Lee Smith, Marianne Gingher, and Kaye Gibbons, to name a few. Mary Thompson, the clever and sharp-witted daughter of a highway patrolman in North Carolina, is the latest in a long line of spunky fictional Southern girls. Full of yearning for the mother who ran off when she was ten, Mary develops an obsession with horses. Her stoical dad, Frank, has no idea how to raise a girl but is full of good intentions. When Mary is diagnosed with chronic renal failure, Frank's life also takes a turn for the worse. He can't commit to either of the women in his life--a local journalist or Mary's riding instructor--and finds matters further complicated by the return of his ex, a vain beauty whose selfishness has tragic consequences and whose entire family is considered trashy by Frank's supportive, devout mother and his sarcastic father. Dialysis stunts Mary's development into womanhood and makes her an impatient candidate for a transplant. While her grandparents bury all their long-nurtured grudges, her mother--the ideal donor- -disappears with her new, young husband. The teary denouement comes after a blow-by-blow narrative of Mary's illness. In her effort to survey the range of human reactions to the suffering of others, Betts relies on too many pointless subplots that just wander into oblivion and fantasy. She also suffers from a penchant for puns and one-liners, putting words in her protagonists mouths that are inappropriately out of character. Still, guaranteed to exercise the tear ducts.