Carroll (Madonna Red, Mortal Friends) is to be applauded for moving away from commercial formulas toward something more ambitious, but this agreeably small-scale domestic drama ultimately gets caught in an unsatisfying no-man's-land between contrived soap opera and pretentious soul-searching. The novel begins well--with David Dolan, an early '70s draft-dodger activist, returning to the U.S. (where he's still wanted on assault charges) after eight years as an academic in Sweden. But David's hopes for a job at NYU fall through, and his old best pal is now a weasel-y lawyer; so, distraught (""He felt as though he had only seconds in which to save himself""), he goes looking for his sister-in-law Eddie--widow of his killed-in-Nam brother. . . and David's partner in a moment of long-ago adultery (source of heavy guilt for both). Rich novelist Eddie, however, has been having her own problems: her remarriage to movie star Cheney McCoy has gone bad, and the main victim is her little son Bren (David's nephew)--who's been staying with Grandma in Maine, feeling responsible for his parents' breakup, while his genuinely loving stepfather Cheney keeps trying to stay in touch with him. Thus, David tracks down an unwelcoming Eddie just as she's flying off to protect Bren from Cheney (""She was going to Maine for her son, to save him, and for her mother, to be saved""). And, after a visit to his own sad mother in a Boston laundromat (the novel's best scene), David--sure that the FBI is on his trail--follows Eddie up to Maine. Will Cheney also show up to make it a threesome? Of course. He's been rehearsing an off-Broadway Richard III (the book's least convincing material), but he is soon flying his own seaplane to Maine--to reclaim Bren, to win back Eddie (she ""was what could save him from chaos""). So everything is over-neatly set up, then, for a series of melodramatic showdowns: Cheney grabs Bren and tries to fly off with him into a midnight storm; David and Eddie pursue, rescue Bren, and (apparently) drown Cheney; Cheney returns for some hand-to-hand combat; David and Eddie rediscover love (""We must be kind to one another""). Unfortunately, none of the characters here is fully drawn enough to support all this sturm or the heavy, prosy talk of salvation, guilt, and such (only little Bren is consistently lifelike). And the straining for literary weight makes it hard even to enjoy the story's sentimental, Kramer vs. Kramer-ish surface story. Thin and overwrought, then, but with enough strong scene-work (the opening chapter, that laundromat conversation) to reaffirm Carroll's basic talents.