Whether a little more so or a little less, Nina Bawden's novels are self-perpetuating pleasures and among the few which deal gently with people, real people, and the fallibility of personal relationships. They are never quite what they seem or what we hope they might be. On this ""afternoon,"" another Penelope, a good woman beyond question, has decided not to wait for her husband but walk out on him. She's the mother of two girls--as well as a magistrate in the domestic courts--and her non-writing writer Eddie has run to seed, or rather fermented grain. During the hours here, while she's presiding over another case, she's really putting herself in the docket. After all, ""No one could do more, could they?"" than she has, faithfully attending and supporting a man who is fat and besotted. And hadn't she protectively cared for her stepmother Eve before Eve was ""taken poorly"" and suddenly--too many aspirins? But why has someone now sent Penelope twenty of them, anonymously? This then is a reconnaissance, defensive to a degree, of personal accountability, particularly since it is through actions rather than intentions, sublimated or rationalized, that we are judged. These episodes from the past surface, at intervals, but how difficult they are to remember, isolate, or explain away. And what, after all, is a good woman? You might argue that this neat, small novel is a little too conveniently arranged. But then you would be defeating yourself rather than Miss Bawden, who is the doyenne of artful, flexible, interpersonal sets.