For some ten years and for an ascendant market, Nina Bawden has managed to write a different book each time dealing with essentially modest materials one hesitates to stigmatize as ""domestic."" And with a technical skill so unobtrusive that it is likely to be overlooked, here particularly evident in a story which is faultlessly synchronized, alternating and accelerating from one moment to the next and one character to another. ""People pretend all the time to make life more bearable."" Emma, who is married to Henry, pretty, defenseless, an irreproachable wife and mother, has been pretending most of her life until the day when Henry's father, a randy old man, falls to his death. Did she push him down the stairs? Then there's Holly, Emma's closest friend, an independent, undeluded young woman who defends her right to extramarital sexual pleasures (actually fewer and lesser than have been assumed) and most recently has been tumbled by Lucas, a writer with an easygoing charm (to whom Emma has been writing endless love letters--all unmailed). And finally Henry, dimming to dullness in middle age, disapproving of Holly while latently lusting for her, etc. etc. ""Somewhere in the midst of this, was the grain of truth, the black core of fear. Something not to be thought about"" but slowly surfacing via the variables of these relationships. . . . Perhaps not the especial charm of A Little Love, A Little Learning, or Tortoise by Candlelight, but well ahead of the field. People you might know, people you do know by the end of a novel which is eminently plausible and pleasurable.