Social worker Helene, possessed by a hovering, mindless dread and disquiet, has always known that her habit of indecision and drift gives her power over certain men. There is Michael, who initiates a fevered affair with Helene while planning to marry her friend--a cruelty which eventually blanches out into a disposable, disagreeable compulsion. Reed is a drug addict casually tempting death, who offers comfort and lethe. But it is Richard, married to Helene's best friend, who focuses in--through the lens of his own terror--on Helene's own pervasive, floating fears. Richard follows her, arranges bizarre meetings and declares in his journal (discovered after his attempted immolation) that Helene is a fellow victim whose weakness is power: ""She is afraid of everything but me. . . . For those of us in fear it's important to stay in motion. . . we don't waste time looking around speculating."" As Helene keeps pace with the disintegrating relationships with the three men, she also comforts Richard's wife and deals with a parade of clients--hostile, wretched, courageous--applying for food stamps. And through it all, she remains intact in her ""world of suicides,"" blessing her sanity and retaining her right to walk out, to keep in motion. First-novelist Martin coolly and efficiently traces the waterbug skittering in and around contemporary psychic hurts; except for Richard's tedious scab-picking journal, she truly, acutely involves us with every pitch and toss of a lady straining to keep an even keel.