Although her characters are broad-brushed, Baird, in this brief novel, does close in on the most devastating aspects of old age--decline of powers, the gradual and then abrupt withdrawal of independence, and, sometimes, the trust in those you love. Seventy-eight-year-old widow Melanie is a vigorous, tart-tongued independent woman who lives alone in her large house, drives her car with complete confidence. Daughter Jane, a dreary social worker, is urging Melanie to give up her house and move nearer to her. ""I am an item on her agenda. 'Things to do.' ""But granddaughter Juliet, a London. based career woman, is another matter. The two have a close, loving relationship, and Juliet's visits are frequent and delightful. Then Juliet becomes pregnant, with no plan to marry the father. After the initial shock, Melanie gathers her forces for a marvelous project--she will care for the baby, with Juliet a weekend mother. Juliet seems to agree. A nursery is prepared as a surprise, and day help is (vainly) investigated. And during Melanie's springtime planning, there's another source of pleasure: a dating friendship with a similarly spiky oldster, Douglas. But then Melanie's brave new world collapses. Juliet announces she's had an abortion. She will take a job in Canada. And Douglas dies suddenly. Melanie's subsequent decline--humiliating and frightening loss of memory, disorientation--brings all those hitherto harmless figures (like police, a joshing doctor, an earnest social worker) from the periphery of her life into a central threat. At the close, Juliet, with a Canadian husband, returns for the most loving, gentlest of deceptions--but deception it is. And Melanie, who through memories of her demanding father's admonition--""Melanie can do it""--knows that the time has come to ""let go."" And also that ""Melanie can do it."" A large-type treatment of the many sadnesses of old age--touching at times with a solid ring of truth--though Melanie's high-bridged patrician-style sallies may turn off some American readers.