It was all a game, Alden thought, when his wife Becky responded to their new life in Prague by making all the rules herself. He guessed that, after 20 some years together, now was not the moment to remind Becky that he knew her better than she knew herself. Consequently, it came as a bit of a shock one day when she disappeared, turning up months later in Libya with William, an old flame who had never ceased to let Becky know that, when she was ready for him, he was ready for her. Though the characters spring full-grown from Nancy Clark's delightful first novel, The Hills at Home, readers can fully enjoy A Way from Home on its own. Once again Clark demonstrates her consummate talent for yeasty prose that rises to every occasion: complicated ones, like Americans in Czechoslovakia on the eve of the country's separation, or those simple beyond belief, like adultery. Clark has been compared to Jane Austen, but requires even more attention and rewards it, offering paragraphs stuffed with loaded insights and original takes on universal human experiences.

As before, Clark's oblique humor sets everything straight, sometimes answering questions one never thought to ask. Becky, surrounded by North Africans, thought rather well of herself for not really minding the natives. Or on a lesser note, there's the pet dog who was an inveterate groin sniffer; he was just the right height. Obviously, there is sometimes a sharp edge behind the smile, like a Cheshire cat with teeth.

Clark is already working on the final Hill novel in the trilogy. Keeping up this level of excellence can't be easy, but apparently for her, it's natural. Second novels are the test: based on this one, readers need have no qualms about looking forward to the upcoming July and August. Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.

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