Maureen Howard, . . Viking, $24.95 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03358-4

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THE SILVER SCREEN Maureen Howard . Viking , $24.95 (244p) ISBN 0-670-03358-8

This meditative entry in Howard's quartet of novels inspired by the four seasons (after A Lover's Almanac and Big as Life ) is flavored by hints of summer. As the novel opens, Isabel Maher, once a minor star of silent film, dies in her house in a seaside town in Rhode Island, tended by her aging children. Joe, her doted-on favorite, a Jesuit priest troubled by his flawed past, is stunned when immediately following the funeral his younger sister Rita, long overlooked as a dumpy spinster, marries ex-mobster Manny Salgado and disappears with him into the Witness Protection Program. Floundering from this double loss, Joe boards in his old hometown with Gemma; now an award-winning photographer, Gemma spent much of her childhood as an ersatz third sibling to Joe and Rita. Howard spools out the perspectives of the four main players (Bel's voice coming from beyond the grave), gradually revealing their secrets, passions and disappointments. Though Joe and Bel are better developed than Gemma and Rita, the stories of all four are anchored by Howard's lovely and precise prose and by the complexities of communication and disconnection, the roles in which we are all cast or miscast in life. Readers of the series so far will also have the pleasure of discovering further connections between disparate characters in this wide, seasonal tapestry. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Aug. 9)