From Irish author Ryan (Glenallen, 1993 etc.), a glowering indictment of the double standard in her native land. Patricia married dense Gerry 20 years earlier, on the rebound from Paddy, her passionate love. Now financially secure and the mother of two teenagers, she is bored silly. Attempting to communicate with Gerry is frustrating, and sex is a chore. Then Paddy reappears in her life, still handsome, now successful, also married (also on the rebound). Their re-encounter ignites an affair, complete with days of wine, roses, and burgeoning doubts in Paris for Pat. Protagonist number two, Joan, toils as a lawyerunderappreciated and overworkedto support her beloved husband, painter David, who is ill and neurotically obsessed with guilt because of his brother's death in childhood. When he becomes successful, David shrugs off his dependency on Joan, who ponders, ``Her strength had been squandered, poured without reckoning into his sustaining.'' Sad, doomed Sarah (heroine number three), the mother of three with another on the way, is a textbook victim, married to a wife-beater. With the help of Joan and Pat (a former classmate), Sarah takes the first step toward freedom...but not soon enough. Eventually, Joan and David reach a new plateau of understanding while Pat, intuiting the potentially corrosive differences between Paddy's focus on the affair and her own, makes a liberating decision. As Ryan views it, the real villains here are social and judicial tolerance of abuse of women and, as always, the ego-squashing, tradition-fostered yoke of marriage in which the wife ceases to be an independent being. Her characters move fast and efficiently in the heat of this Message. An engrossing broadside in the struggle for true partnership between the sexes.