Throughout much of this Back-Street jam of amorous young New Zealand professionals, the narrator, journalist Maria, is in a dither about her clandestine affair with Dr. Charles Hugo, who's married to artist/craftsperson Hannah. Charles explains he simply can't leave Hannah; she has attempted suicide, after all. But Maria devotedly, breathlessly clings to Charles, miserable in his absence (when ""sadness with invisible fingers reached out to touch me""). And so the lovers have a dreadful time avoiding Hannah--who snoops, keeps returning from vacations too early, and even barges in on a cozy domestic scene: ""Her large eyes stared, too big for her slight frame."" Then Maria and Charles swear off, stay apart; and Maria even seems to have succeeded in befriending Hannah at last. But new troubles gather as Maria, who has successfully fended off former lover Robert, is attracted to charming adventurer Sam--which makes Charles jealous. Result? Spat and reconciliation--a reconciliation which Hannah peeks in on. And soon there comes a phone call which the lovers are afraid to answer: it's poor Hannah, of course, expiring from an overdose in a phone booth. Riddled with guilt for Hannah's death, Charles takes off. . . while Maria slowly begins to free herself of the past, presumably helped by Sam. Despite the pretentious prose--throughout, Maria thinks about Charles in the second person (""Your face clouded. Lines appeared on your forehead')--an old, old story that has rarely seemed drippier.