Child-abuse in turn-of-the-century Ohio--as set forth in an ashen, relentless, overdrawn yet powerful novel. Jenny and Vance Taylor have two children, Susan and Stanley. While Jenny seems somewhat better disposed toward Stanley, both children are regularly whipped with the rubber hose of Jenny's douche apparatus by Vance for the smallest infraction or for no good reason at all. True, to the world (of Bremen, Ohio), Jenny turns out a vibrant and secure front--the leader of the Little Theatre group, a businesswoman, sexually appealing, intelligent. Vance, too, as the school superintendent, enjoys outward high regard. But there is nothing they won't inflict upon their children: the most savage beatings; humiliations (Jenny won't wash Susan's bloomers for a whole year, so the children at school flee from her); sexual impositions. And when eight-year-old Susan, brilliant and precocious, has sex with two older but kind boys--a small pleasure in her life of torment--her mother lays curses upon her: ""You are no good. You are filthy and wicked and nothing will ever change you. Never marry as other girls do. God will punish you if you ever have a husband or children."" Eventually, however, the town will turn against the Taylors, prompted by Susan's occasional damning public remarks. So the children receive a cheering--if novelistically thin--reversal of fates. Still, Butler's novel remains a frighteningly unrelieved case-study of the mad cruelty of true sinners, with the cards a little too clearly stacked at the very outset: Susan the special and constant victim, Jenny and Vance the unspeakable villains. And though the result is more than a little monotonic, as one horrifying injury comes after another until the sweet but unsurprising revenge, this is a stark, plainly effective dramatization of nearly-unfathomable sadism and suffering.