New Zealand's Frame is a crafty, if occasionally murky, writer. Here, though, her multiple surfaces lock up to produce something thoughtful and very fissionable: a ""replica or a replica dreaming of a replica of dreams,"" i.e., fiction-writing. Mavis Halleton, a widowed New Zealand writer (who thinks of herself too as Violet Pansy Proudlock, a ventriloquist, and as Alice Thumb, eavesdropper and gossip), visits a doctor friend in Baltimore. While there she hears from an older, childless Berkeley couple, the Garretts, who are great admirers of Mavis' work; they invite her to take over their house while they're away in Italy for six weeks: she can write there in peace. Mavis accepts and moves in. But then she hears that the Garretts have been killed in an earthquake in Italy, and their will leaves the house to her. As though this were not enough, the couple before their death had invited two other couples as houseguests--and these four in turn arrive, driving Mavis into the basement to be out of their way. This comedy of coincidence and implausibility is sheer puppetry, of course: the Garretts' house is the house of fiction which Mavis, with the ""generosity and forgiveness of words,"" has totally invented. Frame's satire on California personalities is a bit tired, but her gaily played-out metaphor of invention, living in the ""manifold,"" retains a lively snap. She treats the book like one of those miniature glass balls which snows when you shake it. Playful, deft work, then, by a writer of eccentric strengths.