Carey's eye and humor as a storywriter (Good Gossip, 1992) are here again, but even so her first novel--about family and divorce in the confusion of the late '60s--creeps at so benignly slow a pace as to risk its readers not waiting for the lovely close. Joan Toolan tells the story of having been 12--her chess-playing brother Hugh two years younger--when their mother left them with their unbalanced, piano-playing, war-veteran father in their western Massachusetts town. Heading for New York, ``our mother,'' as Joan always calls her, took a shabby apartment that placed her just minutes away from her sister Iris--the center of the enviably stylish and well-off ``other family'' that consists of Iris herself, psychiatrist husband Charles Eberlander, teenaged daughters Polly and Budge, and trusty Austrian maid, all living in a perfect Brooklyn Heights townhouse. When Joan and Hugh visit Brooklyn a few years in succession for summer weekends, though, the truth beneath the ``other'' family's elegant veneer gradually becomes more questionable. While Iris idealistically runs for public office, daughters Polly and Budge, coolly demure on the outside, spend their real energies playing with marijuana (for starters), and father Charles starts an affair with ex-patient Vi--to be discovered one day in flagrante by Joan and Budge at the Eberlander country house. Divorces (Charles from Iris, Vi from her husband) and other rearrangements follow, and yet the reader has the odd feeling, even so, that curiously little is happening--until at last, toward book's end, Iris is given center stage and shows herself capable of handling that honor with an unexpected tragicomic aplomb that makes for the novel's best scenes and for a perfect, delicate, three-point ending. Carey's in sure command of color, place, and atmosphere, but her characters themselves too often stay half-hidden, waiting to be drawn into true and full dimension.