Less a novel than a case study about a dysfunctional Texas family, Stout's latest (A Family Likeness, Eighteen Holes--not reviewed) probes the resentments and fears of a young Texas woman whose wounded feelings force her to play the martyr with her selfish husband and her blind and retarded sister. At 27, Meg is mired in domestic problems. Her two toddlers are messy and noisy. Caring for them is sunshine, however, compared with meeting the needs of her husband Stan, a philandering, strutting mechanic who is forever barking complaints. Meg hates Stan, yet she manipulates him by giving him ``all the extras'' in bed. What she wants is to have Lisbeth, her blind and retarded 28- year-old-sister, visit for Christmas. In truth, Meg cringes at the thought of caring for her huge, deformed sister, but she feels pressured by Lisbeth's state home since mother and father have recently run off, leaving no forwarding address. When Lisbeth arrives on Meg's doorstep, all grabbing hands and howling demands, with her comes a note from the state institution insisting that Lisbeth is too disturbed to come back after the holidays. Over the turkey and stuffing at Christmas dinner, everyone in Meg's family comes to see what that means: ``Then she reached down, picked up her plate, threw it against the wall behind her, and went yelling and stamping off into the family room.'' Soon after, Meg's life turns into a codependent hell. Her abusive husband walks out, and her alcoholic, irresponsible brother moves in. Meg distances people who try to help her, all the while caring for the increasingly agitated Lisbeth with grim, self-pitying resolve. In the end, she resorts to a solution that would have done her fly-by-night parents proud. Stout fails to invest the mightily handicapped Lisbeth with the smallest spark of humanity, creating a dreary, instead of moving, book.