Sarah Ellis is ten when her mother Catherine tries to commit suicide—in a first novel from Britisher Bingham that tries hard but fails to be meaningful or moving. While her mother is taken to the hospital, Sarah is driven by her father Harry out to the old farmhouse where cousin Marion and husband Jamie live. With the exception of ever-forgiving Sarah, there’s frustration and anger at Catherine’s suicide attempt—perhaps most of all in the case of husband Harry, who can scarcely be said any longer to be married to Catherine, though he still lives in the same house with her—and, in a most decorous and civilized manner, disappears politely whenever poet David comes over to make love to the rather hysterically enamored Catherine. This is a situation overall that could make for perfectly sturdy domestic comedy, but first-timer Bingham plays her chords in a sober key—a serious misjudgment, since none of her characters has the weight for anything but a soaper, which her novel quickly becomes. David wears denim and is a poet, but for what conceivable reason Catherine could love him we have no further clue; husband Harry is paper-thin; Catherine herself a one-note prima donna of druggy and narcissistic meanness (—Oh God! I can—t take much more of this—) whose monstrosity as she maligns and screams at patient little Sarah is putatively accounted for by her own childhood traumas at the hands of a mean stepfather. She, like everything else here, is overstated and under-dramatized—including poor little Sarah, who never quite lifts off the page, either in her bucolic explorations on the farm or in the fast-forward scenes showing her as an adult with her own lover. Nothing is helped by the specter-memory of Marion and Jamie’s dead child that’s coyly hinted at throughout the whole. Efforts at seriousness that read like daytime TV on the page.