Careless by Deborah Robertson Sceptre, HK$120 'Domestic realism' is a description often hurled at women's writing to shatter the illusion that it can produce more than boring tales about families and relationships. Careless centres on the two broad topics, but proves that the term need not have a pejorative or tedious tinge. That said, the novel - the first by Australian creative-writing teacher Deborah Robertson - is heavy-going because the subject matter is less than cheery. But this is redeemed by characters who speak their troubles to readers without resorting to emotionalism. Three stories make up the novel: that of eight-year-old Pearl, who loses her small brother in a playground bloodbath; an egocentric young sculptor called Adam; and Sonia, a woman in her 60s who has felt empty since her husband's death. The threads conjoin when Sonia gives Adam - who hopes to make a name for himself by creating a memorial for the child victims - access to the studio of her late spouse. Pearl enters the picture when her feckless mother, who inspires the book title, starts an affair with Adam. Robertson is best when she dissects relationships, particularly parent-child bonds, and reveals the carelessness that marks human nature. However, hope is offered in the form of self-discovery that fades the human stains.