Experimental poet and novelist Howe tells the story of modern-day martyr Henny, a filmmaker living in a working-class Boston neighborhood and married to McCool, an alcoholic musician whose jealousy and depression lead to tragedy. The couple have never had children of their own; instead, Henny raises a band of foster children and opens her dilapidated home to transients for extra money. But the most significant connections in her life are those she forges with her friends. Libby, whom she has known since childhood, when her mother was Libby's family's maid, is a wealthy but troubled ""free spirit"" who is strangely loyal to Henny, even as she betrays her by sleeping with McCool (albeit with permission). Lewis, Henny's first love, is a wheelchair-bound black activist and writer. Henny turns to mysticism and philosophy to attempt to make sense of her life--Buddhism, Marxism and Catholicism are just a few of her guiding forces; figures as divergent as Nietzsche and Bambi also serve as touchstones. On a practical level, the novel is sometimes confusing: Henny, though rooted in Boston, bounces among locales without much explanation, and time is anything but linear. Issues of race, class, sex and religion are seized upon and abandoned, and a few peripheral characters are never sufficiently fleshed out. Somehow, though, as viewed through Henny's eyes and embodied in her elliptical, dreamlike films, the strange logic of the novel hangs together ""like finding meteor pebbles in the sole of your sneaker."" (Jan.) Forecasts: Fans of Howe's poetry should enjoy this one, as should readers who relish the work of such avant-garde gender-benders as Anne Carson.