Three generations of women in small-town Tennessee suffer, shelter, and survive together and apart from 1932-72--in this first novel, a likable soap, rattling with gale-force disasters and crises. In 1932, Miss Gussie, mother of the terrible tot Dorothy and wife of weak bank-teller Charlie, commits righteous murder to save Charlie's job in the Depression. She'll bury the body of the killer son of Charlie's boss in the garden. Little Dorothy calls Gussie ""Mother Dear,"" but when Clancy Jane is born, it's obvious that Mother Dear loves her second child best. Still, it's Dorothy who'll grow up to marry respectable store-owner Albert and move next door; Clancy Jane will elope with rough, lowlife Hart, who'll die in Vietnam. Then Gussie forgives all and brings Clancy Jane home with her grandchild Violet. Violet will be the only one to strive upward to college. Meanwhile, Dorothy's children have rotten marriages; they forsake and are forsaken. And Dorothy, dumped by Albert, is headed for cuckoo-land (since youth she's favored self-mutilation as well as skewering verbally the nearest and dearest). There's no end to the miseries of love here. Falling in love, in fact, is pure pain, thinks Clancy Jane: ""I'd never known any sort of fall to be pleasurable."" As for that body a-moulderin' beneath the zinnias--you can bet your shovel, it will be turned up. Although the characters are elementary--A for Awful, B for Bewildered, C for Courageous--it all careens along at a furious clip, now and then trailing through headline events--from Vietnam to hippie hangouts.