Despite the pre-pub hoopla, this severe little tale of sisterly envy isn't the equal of Hart's widely praised debut, Damage (1991)--or maybe the author's real but slender gifts are just wearing out in unintentional self-parody. Ruth and Elizabeth are cousins raised as sisters; golden Elizabeth's parents died, and she was taken into Ruth's parents' home before Ruth was ever born. Cheated of her birthright, Ruth reacts with a pathological jealousy that alternately festers and hatches malevolent plots. Her plan to betray Elizabeth (who's grown into a minor painter of skyscapes) with her attentive husband Hubert is foiled by his indifference and accidental death (he leaves behind only an asthmatic son, Stephen), but she succeeds with Elizabeth's second husband, proper, haunted Sir Charles Harding, the magnate who buys her father's publishing house--the affair commencing when Charles comes to break the news of her father's death. As this tasteful adultery progresses, though, things begin to go awry: Ruth's mathematician husband Dominick realizes what's going on and threatens to leave Ruth and their son William; Charles withdraws by turns from Ruth and from Elizabeth (making Ruth's triumph less sweet); and a long-portended, heavily symbolic catastrophe leaves Ruth defeated and embittered. These weighty developments are set forth in a style in which oracularly self-important pronouncements alternate with dialogue redolent of adult baby talk (``I have changed. For example, I mock less''). The net effect is risible, yet peculiarly powerful in its elemental conception. Hart's ludicrously factitious rhetoric may be the sign of her true vocation--her authorship of massively bestselling bad-news comic books for grown-ups.