Stubbs takes another leap forward from her previous novels (A Lasting Spring, 1987; The Northern Correspondent, 1984, etc.), with this vivid tale of two sisters' search for meaningful, productive lives in England of the Fifties and Sixties. Leila, an artist and natural bohemian, swears to avoid the fate of her older sister, Zoe, a golden-haired Titania who leaps into an early marriage and eagerly devotes herself to having children. In fact, neither life turns out as glamorous or as simple as planned: Leila suffers through an illegal abortion and an ensuing series of unsuccessful affairs while working as an illustrator in London, and Zoe endures a circumscribed existence in Kent with her childish and opinionated lawyer-husband. But with the help of their sensible, middle-class values and their expansive father's occasional financial support, they manage to withstand their share of catastrophe--including their father's scandalous death of a heart attack at his mistress' house and their mother's subsequent death from cancer. When Zoe's husband divorces her, Leila arrives to help with the children, and the sisters' restored friendship enables the sadder but wiser housewife to bounce back more self-confidently than before. Soon after, Leila finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Her decision to have the child without a husband marks her evolution since her early, traumatic abortion and enables Leila, too, to find a separate if unconventional peace. Certainly prosaic material in less expert hands, it is a credit to this author's talent that her characters' final words (""All experience is valuable. Perhaps that's why it's so expensive"") are both deeply moving and memorable. A vigorous, unsentimental portrait of two modern-day women, sure to appeal to a wide general readership.