More than a bit preposterous, this slow-moving and claustrophobic first novel is a New Age psychodrama in which two women transcend their sexual rivalry and eventually bond as mother/daughter, sister/sister, and guru/acolyte. All this happens in six weeks, even though these two have never met before. What they have in common is predictable enough--a man. But not just any man. Jay Ellis is a famous writer, an intense and driven genius with an "insatiable hunger" for new people and conversation--he's also "drunk on words" and possessed by a "relentless curiosity." His wife of 23 years, Anne, thinks he was "reared to be a nomad sage" and is "a romance addict," meaning he likes many women, not bad fiction. Ever since their two children left home, Anne has lived alone in a stone house by the sea in California, where her life is "ruled by silence and mistrust." While Jay makes his way around the country on readings and guest teaching appointments, Anne tends to her garden, in the literal and spiritual senses. Reclusive and unfriendly, and inscrutable to the townsfolk, this madwoman of Mendicino happily greets her profligate husband every summer when he returns for sessions with the muse. Into this quiet arrangement arrives Ellen Cassidy, a Radcliffe sophomore and aspiring M.F.A. student who was Jay's last fling. Abruptly discarded, this sexy and spoiled rich girl from Greenwich, Conn., hikes West to meet the fabled wife. Ellen barges into Anne's life, announcing her purpose--to find out why Jay always comes back--and camps out on Anne's property. Improbably, Anne allows this upsetting intruder to infringe on her emotional well-being, stirring all kinds of reminscences about her own past with Jay. Moreover, the two eventually work through their petty jealousies and begin to share the work in Anne's garden. Once Ellen realizes that Anne is as remarkable as her husband, the younger woman begins to absorb her wisdom, which seems to be a lot of Earth-Mother feminism derived from anthropological, religious (the Gnostic gospels) and literary sources (Robertson Davies, Virginia Woolf). Padded with overwrought prose ("l heave like the thaw of a frozen river--roaring fissures, glimpse of black water, monoliths of ice ripping and grinding. . ."), this often bathetic little novel takes itself much too seriously.