Married for 66 years, Ellen and Vincent MacNamara have parented three children (one died in WW II), raised two of their five grandchildren and passed from penury into the middle class. Now Ellen lies dying, emerging briefly from her semi-comatose state to scream and fight against the shackling of her soul in a moribund body; in one such rage, she knocked Vincent down, breaking his hip. Vincent is returning home after convalescence to honor his promise to stay with Ellen until she dies. Most of their family still live within a several-block radius in Queens, N.Y., and they have gathered for Vincent's return. In spare, astringent prose and beautifully controlled kaleidoscopic episodes, Gordon delineates the four generations of this family, exposing their personalities by virtue of her ironic eye. The offspring of the marriage between high-principled, indomitable Ellen, whose "love for vengeance would mark her life," and gentle, steady Vincent have carried a heritage of stony anger and heartache. They illustrate a tragedy common to many families: that two people connected in passionate union may produce children they cannot love. More fundamentally, the MacNamaras represent the Irish: "unhappiness was bred into the bone, a message in the blood . . . they had to thwart joy in their lives."