In both Rituals (1982) and the less successful Mirror Images (1985), Sexton dealt with the psychic agonies of the main character in elite Wasp environs. Here, the setting is a New Hampshire farm, and the novel centers on that most terrible of events--the death of a child--and a mother's ordeal of grief and guilt. Allie Yates, a painter, has adjusted to married life on a farm, loving and being loved by husband Sam, edging to a companionable relationship with mother-in-law Tobie (a kind of chain-smoking Marjorie Main), and mothering four-year-old Anna and the twins, two-year-old Meggie and Jamie (precocious sprouts all). There is no doubt that Jamie, particularly, is beloved: ""He was part of me--to lose him would be to lose myself. . .Jamie was a new territory, my lost half. . .a piece of my woman's body [gone on] to become a man."" What could explain, then, Allie's thrill of fear when her painting of Jamie (""all angular lines and hard colors"") seemed to carry a terrible message? Jamie will die. He will strangle on the string of a toy Allie has allowed him to sleep with while she makes love with Sam (who always came second with her) and when she fails to answer his half cry. The family--even the little girls--eventually reach a kind of recovery after the death, and they attempt to help Allie. But Allie, in another world of grief, reunites with Jamie, who returns to her in sound and sight and touch. At the last, Allie, mad with grief and the ecstasy of reunion, attempts a final solution--and is released again to life. The strident intensity of Allie's relationship to Jamie, the horror of the death, and the hallucinatory aftermath dim the circling situations and characters (often so stereotypical), and the melodramatic close. A harsh midday portrait of tragedy that lacks the shading necessary to movement and involvement.