A lonely middle-aged writer, tormented by family memories, finds solace in a hot love affair, a sailboat, and the healing power of the sea in this first adult novel from the author of two award-winning books for children (Stonewords, 1990). Ellie Brinkley is in bad shape. It has been three years since her 13-year-old daughter Casey died, longer than that since her divorce and successful first novel. Then chimney-sweep Max Turkel appears at her Long Island home. She buys his sailboat, hoping it will cure her writer's block -- she has loved the sea since childhood fishing trips with her father -- and is soon sleeping with the angelically handsome but unreliable Max. Ellie is in denial: Not only does she pretend to Max that Casey is still alive, she has told friends the girl was a hit-and-run victim. In fact Casey was a hostile, self-hating child, indulged by her alcoholic father, eventually institutionalized, and (a late revelation) an addict who overdosed on heroin. The gritty flashbacks to mother-daughter confrontations are wildly out of sync with the arch tone that enfolds Ellie and her puckish chimneyman; the same goes for the material on married life with her poorly defined husband and childhood with her Irish Catholic dockworker father, another boozer. Nor does Ellie's relationship with Max push her towards a catharsis; only after the truth about Casey emerges accidentally, prompting Max to leave her, does Ellie, in a too tidy wrap, face her most terrible secret (involving her father's shipboard death) and feel "rinsed clean of fear," alone on her sailboat but unblocked now, a newly self-confident writer and sailor. Histrionics galore but little drama in this awkward debut.