If Lipsett's previous books, Out of Danger (1987) and Coming Back Up (1985), were soft-focus looks at personal tragedy, this time she has taken care to use a more powerful lens--and the snapshots she hands us are not exactly pretty pictures. The book opens with the story of Nancy Jacobs, a young mother who's taken herself to a clinic in Mexico in 1950 to see if anything can be done about her cancer, which the doctors have pronounced to be fatal. Left at home, in California, are her considerably older husband, Maury, and their four young children. In the brief glimpse we get of her, Nancy seems to be life- affirming, passionate, and mostly well-intentioned. Surprisingly, then, the ghost she leaves behind is anything but beneficent. As we follow the next chapters in her family's life, it turns out that Nancy's legacy to them is generally unremitting--and sometimes unendurable--pain. Lernie Jacobs, the oldest daughter, grows up to be plump, artistic, and withdrawn. At age 16, already hooked on Librium for her nerves and Dexedrine for her weight problem, she suffers a blow from unrequited love and swallows a couple of her father's sleeping pills. The result is another tragedy to add to the family toll. Jeff Jacobs, the youngest child, was just learning to talk when his mother died. At age ten, after Lernie's death, he stops speaking altogether. For Maury, Nancy's ghost is restless and ever-present, isolating him and preventing him from forming new bonds-even with Iris, the practical widow who loves him and sees him as the salvation for her own deep, secret loneliness. There are moments of sharp-edged humor here and many moments of epiphany. But what Lipsett spotlights are moments of such pure suffering that, overall, her beam feels merciless--it reveals more than we ever wanted to know.