Hill continues her scrutiny of marital stalemates and ritualized feints and thrusts--here insidiously muffled--as a middle-aged Minnesota couple ""wear down, weary of finding nothing surprising."" Although this novel lacks the sharp regional flavor of Blue Rise (1983) and it sags now and then with showy conceits and too-clever talk, Hill pricks most inventively at the riddle of a marriage in which ""there's a way to feel alive with somebody and a way to feel dead with the same person."" It's Aspera's birthday, and she and increasingly boozy husband Will are partying old friends: baby-voiced Bunny, who flirts with Will and who still holds husband Dalton in an iron grip; divorced Dena (""her lacquered nails large. . .like scales on a carp""); and widowed Vicky, who's brought along lover Kevin, age 26. Kevin has (secretly) been dubbed ""Baby Kevin""--purposely diminishing him since ""hovering at age 40, the three things [the women] most feared were death, divorce and younger lovers."" Yet Aspera, too, will have an affair with Kevin--women seem to ""roll out for him like little yellow ducks in a shooting gallery."" How serious was marriage anyway in America's Heartland? Serious enough to compel one to step back from a wasteland. Boisterous Will, ambitious for his hardware business, and Aspera are decent people--as everyone is ""until we get into pairs."" Separately, Will and Aspera will dredge through childhoods for long-ago anguish, which, never resolved, they have imposed on their marriage. Aspera, through Kevin, discovers an unlikely friend; and old friends fling their griefs and angers into the communal pot. At the end, Will and Aspera gingerly attempt a shift of focus and, ""molecules flung wide for passage,"" walk through the walls they've built between them. A witty, if too talky at times, colloquy on marriage at midpoint, when it seems that the hearth's gone cold, the parade's gone by and the party's over.