It is the Marys of the world whom men have in their heads, when some evening, looking into the middle distance, they consider what might have been."" Again, as in his far more successful fleshing-out of the people who drift in that middle distance (Her Side of It, 1981), Savage considers dreams and lives wilting on the stalk--but here they are scorched by the bright not spell of a Danish/American Circe, a self-made lady known as Mary Skoning. In 1905 Mary, a sexy Venus of disconcerting poise, enters an exclusive girls' academy near Chicago, thanks to the dogged insistence of her Ã‰migrÃ‰ dairyman-father. Almost immediately she befriends plain, very rich and lonely Emerald Tayloe, gaining entrÃ‰e to the Tayloe mansion with insouciance. And when the Tayloes try to nudge Mary aside, she'll retaliate by ruining the marital plans of Emerald's brother Gordon--simply by appearing at a picnic, stunning and riding sidesaddle. (Gordon and Mary disappear for hours.) On, then, to Montana, where Mary aggravates the unhappy marriage of a ranching couple and goes on to marry into the wealthy Bower family: canny in sex, loved but never loving, Mary is drawn to her mother-in-law, a ""true aristocrat"" mired in a cultural big-sky wasteland; husband Hal is a taciturn big-game hunter whose debilitating terminal illness has been kept a family secret. And, after dutifully producing an heir, restless Mary decides to move on--to another doomed lover, to the search for style, to store magnate Mark Pollinger. But, moving to San Francisco as mistress and career-woman, Mary falls in love for the first time: her infatuation with fading aristocrat Peter Edwards leads to marriage, poverty, the shriving realization that Edwards is a hollow man (""In his face she could make out anything she wished""). . . and plans for yet another adventure. Although the siren and her victims seem remote, Savage's speculative asides, narrative savvy, and sprightly minor characters give Mary's progress a lively staging; not peak Savage, but intelligent and sometimes involving.