English writer Villa-Gilbert (A Jingle Jangle Song, The Others, etc.) presents a quartet of long short-stories that attempt, with mixed results, to play variations on a theme of people self-destructing within broken relationships. In the first of these stories, ""Q,"" Alexandra, a young widow on the rebound, makes the mistake of marrying Leonard Harding, a man 20 years older whom she doesn't love. Leonard turns out to be insanely jealous and suspicious--he moves the passive Alexandra to the country, refuses to let her even shop in the village, and is generally so insufferable that she ends up having an affair with a local farmer's helper named Mick Hook. When Harding catches them at it, he has a heart attack and Hook, racing away on his motorcycle, is killed in an accident--a contrived ending to a story which could only have worked had it been written at a high, passionate heat by D. H. Lawrence. ""Flight of the Owl"" is equally weak. A middle aged businessman named Anthony Lawson is sick and tired of his whining, frigid, hypochondriacal wife Myrna and begins an affair with a 17-year-old punkish girl named Sherry, who is addicted to downers and merely uses the besotted Anthony to pay for her drugs. In the end, she OD's in a bus-station bathroom, and Anthony is left to spend the rest of his life with secret grief, and Myrna: ""Tony!--I've called you three times. What, for goodness' sake, are you sitting there for?"" There's a turn for the better, though, with ""Smoke,"" a moving, evocative story set during WW II and seen through the eyes of an English boy who loses his father and watches his still-young mother fall foolishly in love with a dashing bombardier who turns out to be married. The boy destroys their relationship, but is bewildered to realize that his mother resents him. Finally, in the title story (the best here), a selfish, highly-successful American businesswoman married to a quiet, long-suffering husband is forced to admit that she's an alcoholic, but (in a maudlin ending Villa-Gilbert actually gets away with) is killed just before she enters a treatment clinic. All in all, only half a loaf.