Benedict's uneven third novel (Slow Dancing, 1985; The Beginner's Book of Dreams, 1988) is about letting go emotionally and two very different women--one who can, and one who finds it all but impossible. Narrator Kate Lurie, product of an unhappy marriage and scarred further by her experiences with men, is already ``bitter as bark'' by the time she's 30. A documentary filmmaker, she finds it easier to record than participate; the camera is her defense, ``[her] safe conduct through war zones.'' Small wonder, then, that when Kate meets Mac, during a shoot in 1980 at the Vietnam Memorial, and he turns out to be a wonderful lover, she doesn't think it'll last. But it does, and a year later they're married in New York. Mac is an older guy (late 50s) who works for the State Department--an optimist (despite a failed first marriage and the devastating loss of son Sam in a traffic accident), sentimental, and scrupulously honest. He's told Kate every detail of his affair with Lida, a passionate young Russian, while he was on a hush-hush assignment in 1974 in Leningrad. Now, 17 years later, Mac and Kate are on a stopover in Brussels when Lida reappears, a Westerner married to a Frenchman, and an old flame burning bright as ever. Her reunion with Mac gives Kate the worst moments of her life, fearing for her marriage while envying the other woman her heart, her soul, her headlong abandon. Benedict crosscuts between 1974 Leningrad and 1991 Brussels. Leningrad, with Lida the star of the show, makes for fine, confident storytelling; but in order to inject suspense into the Brussels scenes, Benedict naughtily misdirects the reader. Add to this the undercharacterized Mac and the glibness of Kate's premature bitterness, and you're left with half a loaf.