The intent here, it seems, is to give the hero treatment to Mary McEachern (pronounced, at her fierce insistence, McECKr'n)--a devout, Catholic, ""seventy-year-old virgin in declining health"" who has firmly chosen to be a longtime resident in a home for the destitute aged in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Mary's pursed-lipped prose tends to flatten all the sympathy, interest, and impact that might have been aroused by her chilly, spartan older years. Mary begins her book at 70, but she flashbacks to the age of 55 when she first announces her grim retirement plans. Her chief problems from then on cluster around relatives and friends: her divorced sister Annie, a jaunty sort; Annie's son Donald, whom Mary adores; ""friend"" Gert, hard-drinking sister of Leo Donohue who died at 25 and whose picture Mary has kept on her bureau; Gert's weak son Michael; and Russell Harbach, Gert's ex-husband, who occasionally visits Mary, hoping to hear word of his son. Through the years bitter winds blow: Mary bungles an attempt to help a McCarthy-era victim; she doesn't speak to Gert for two years because of Gert's hint that Leo ""never cared for her""; she's rocked by Donald's non-Catholic marriage in Denmark; and she plans a trip there (in love, not reproach) but breaks a hip and loses all the trip money before Donald dies at 31. True, there are a few surceases from pain: talks with nice Father Charles, a childhood friend; Gert's tuna fish; a package from Donald; and that huge 60th-birthday treat when Russell, in grey gloves and derby, takes Mary on a day trip to Atlantic City in a rented Cadillac for cocktails, dance, and dinner. (""How could sitting in a cocktail lounge, listening to a little man singing a popular song be counted among life's great moments? . . . I had never felt so glad to be alive."") Yes, all in all, Mary's is a bitterly bleak existence--and, with some distance and a less sententious tilt, it could have been parlayed into a searing commentary on an abortive life. But Mary herself does all the talking here, and her talk is stiff, preachy, even downright dull. A potentially interesting character--seen from precisely the wrong vantage point.