Bergland's second (A Farm under a Lake, 1989) veers close to farmland soap opera, but the author's sharp eye, nonjudgmental way of appraising her characters, and crisp, true knowledge of the locale she's writing about raise it well above familiarities of plot. After farming for most of his life, Ed Check, ``almost eighty years old,'' is retired, living in the local hotel of the little country town of Half Moon, Illinois. Retirement doesn't mean that his life is simple, though--not when he's living in the psychological and emotional aftermath of having had two very different but equally unsuccessful marriages, three daughters (of whom much the same could be said), a son-in-law he's never liked much (and who's giving him good reason now to see why), and, to top it off, the loss of the farmland he spent his first marriage and most of his life on. The farmland part was the doing of first wife Edith, a pushy real estate terror who still lives in Half Moon--and makes no apologies for doing what she did. Of Ed and Edith's two daughters, Mary lives in town as a near recluse, and Janet, the younger, appears one night on the apparent rebound from unliked son-in-law, Jack. This leaves Vickie, the offspring of Ed and second wife Marlene, whose drinking troubles led to her running off--with Vickie, whom Ed hasn't seen for years and years. All--or much--of this will be reshaken, settled a bit, and resolved after one fashion or another, to the greater happiness not of all but most. Spending time in the company, meanwhile, of the caring, alert, and curious Ed is very pleasant indeed--as he notices everyone and everything around him, right down to the smells of the air, the passing look on a face, or the feel of the soil. Fiction, in all, that may not be trendy, but that's honest, alluring, felt, fine, and real.