Ford (Monkey Bay, 1989, etc.) returns to Massachusetts for the story of a couple's serendipitous romantic life--related in skipping-stone style across the decades, and just as refreshingly spare and unsentimental as the author's four previous novels. In 1962, when Meg Phillips turned 16, she took a summer job at Woolworth's and introduced Kevin, her directionless older brother, to bleach-blond co-worker Fran Gromek. Inevitably (it seemed in retrospect), Kevin and Fran were drawn to each other, and Meg could only watch helplessly as Fran became pregnant and suffered a miscarriage--an experience that sent Kevin fleeing into the Army, where he remained for five years before dying in Vietnam. Now 21 and at Harvard, Meg is so overwhelmed by grief that she breaks down in tears in front of a concerned teaching assistant. He tries to comfort her; they end up in bed. Soon enough, Meg herself becomes pregnant, and the assistant--Jim Mowbry--must say goodbye to his plans for a summer in Europe so that the two can hastily marry. Meg's life is soon overwhelmed with baby concerns. (Though she does take a furtive moment to kiss Peter, a visiting scholar from England, engendering a chaste romance that continues through the mails for years.) Meanwhile, Meg, pregnant for a second time, hardly notices that Jim has begun what will be a series of dalliances with grad students and colleagues. The two lead virtually separate lives, in fact, as the kids grow and the years rush by. Not until middle age, when Jim is diagnosed with a fatal disease and Peter, now married, drops by for an apparently innocent visit, does Meg sense that her remaining years may at long last be her own to direct. As always, the pleasure of Ford's fiction lies in her refusal to imply more cause-and-effect than exists in the real world. Here, again, her protagonists' lives drift on the currents of time--a very believable, yet sympathetic, portrait of a modern marriage.