For as long as Lukas (Stereopticon, 1975) writes realistically about career-woman Morgana Caldwell here, this is a snappy, intriguing novel; when things become symbolic and fable-like, however (especially in the near-laughable last 50 pages), the narrative loses its command--and the book as a whole begins to seem crude and muddled. Lukas starts out with N.Y.-based real-estate planner Morgana in high gear: she's just landed a huge contract to develop 22,000 acres outside of San Francisco; husband Brendan is a top industrial designer who hardly minds Morgana's long business trips (they revel in being childless and free-moving); the only minor trouble spot is Morgana's best chum Hallie--a much-married, much-gigolo-ed, emotionally needy friend. But once Morgana meets with the owner-developer--brusque, elusive tycoon Harry Marsh--and goes to California to do the on-site planning, mysterious elements creep in: things beyond super-competent Morgana's control. Townsfolk near the development area are hostile: angry about mills being closed, refusing to sell their land. Morgana becomes unnerved while walking through the wild landscape and hires an Indian guide--who speaks of voices, old secrets (including one about Marsh's birth), and forbidden sacred areas. There's a pathetic sexual encounter with seductive/impotent Marsh. And Morgana's rising uneasiness culminates in a town meeting meant to appease the locals: Marsh doesn't show up; Morgana is attacked; she flees, falls into the sacred ravine, and is nursed in the wild by the Indian guide (who is then killed by a corporate-felled tree); and-in about ten pages--she lives in the wild and exultantly gives birth alone before being found and returned to civilization. . . . This basic notion--over-civilized human is transformed by encounter with mythic, natural forces--is an old one, done far better elsewhere. And you don't have to be a feminist to raise an eyebrow over the apparent message that Morgana's super-life has been arid and incomplete without motherhood. Which is all too bad--because before Lukas begins this heavyhanded, sketchy manipulation of dubious themes, she demonstrates (especially in the Hallie subplot) a sure feel for shrewd contemporary storytelling.