As in a few of her earlier stylish illuminations of dank acts and clouded minds, Highsmith leaves questions of morality to linger on after it's curtains--as here, for Edith, a Pennsylvania housewife much abused. Middle-aged Edith is ringed 'round with injustice. Newsman husband Brett, cold as a mackerel, has left her with son Cliffie--hostile, dangerously disturbed, and destined to become the town's clown and drunk--and with Brett's ancient Uncle George, placid demander of trays and bedpans. Yet Edith, deserted, clings to small reassurances--a part-time sales job, writing articles for Brett's former town newspaper and underground magazines, gardening, and cooking family meals for one (Clfffie's usually out drinking). And there are the front line fortifications: the loving concern of great-aunt Melanie (who dies too soon), sculpture--and Edith's diary, in which a fictional Cliffie, graduated from Princeton, presents her with an exemplary career and a beautiful family. Edith suffers a world of callousness and offhand cruelty, and at the close, fighting off invasions by "helPful" Brett, former friends, and psychiatrists, she accidentally plunges to her death, clutching the image of her dream Cliffie. Even as Edith is struggling to cope--whether preparing a festive lunch for imaginary grandchildren or calmly admitting the knowledge that Cliffie had fatally overdosed Uncle George--moral speculations surface about the respective responsibilities of the uncaring and the unloved, tenterhooks cushioned with an enveloping intimacy of character and place.