The English author of the amusing, intelligent The Wife (1977) strobe-lights the complexities and varieties of female isolation--widowhood, marriage, both traditional and career-yoked, old age--in the edgy musings of Sarah Cornish, feature writer for a Cosmo-type, London-based mag. On the one hand, Sarah views womanhood through luxuriantly moody interviews with real-life octogenarians: a Russian Countess, former lover of Gorky; Mrs. Edward Hopper, herself a painter; Anita Loos, Jean Rhys, writers and suffragettes. But while Sarah manages to drag this ""Fast Ladies"" series to victorious publication (despite delightfully acidulous editorial sniping), her home-life is mined with crises. Father-in-law Jacob dies suddenly, mother-in-law Adele seems about to rail into the same black widowhood pit as Sarah's mother Dolly--and somehow Sarah seems to be responsible for Adele's rehabilitation. . . despite commitments to husband Adam, son David (by an ex-lover), and work. (As Sarah's friend Mel puts it: ""Having a widowed Mum around. . . could ruin the sacred career."") So, more and more, Sarah thinks about women managing alone, while Adam, a successful documentary filmmaker, is often away. There'll be extramarital encounters: indulgent sultry sex with David's father at a country house weekend; a peaceful idyll in Wales, meeting a writer with ""leprechaun eyes."" There's a wide-eyed view of men and women in a partying visit to New York while the interlude history of Adele's dutiful Jewish/Polish marriage also highlights the old wife/woman dilemma: ""We try so hard to be whole. . . to find out who we are, what we are. And at the end of it, is this all we are, we women without men. Just a bunch of women waiting? . . . Our mothers ruined their lives through living vicariously and our generation is ruining their lives by trying not to."" And finally Sarah, too, like Adele, Dolly, and the ""Fast Ladies,"" will face an abyss of lonely survival. Burnley overburdens the glossy fast track of her prose with too much old-hat Message; facile characters abound. But, for those who haven't had their fill of quasi-feminist identity crises, this one is unusually lively, punchy--with an extra boost from those glossy interviews.