Early on in Penelope Mortimer's gripping novel "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting," housewife Ruth Whiting looks at her life with husband and three children and wonders, "Will nothing ever happen to us? Will this really go on forever? Is it possible that nothing will ever change?" Mortimer then proceeds to offer an unflinching, unforgiving account of Ruth's descent into depression, her struggle for freedom from the bonds of middle-class life, and her arrival at a point where she "only just begins to exist." Ruth lives in early 1950s England when the highest achievement for a woman was to become a wife and mother. By those standards, Ruth should be fulfiilled -- but she's anything but. Her husband cheats on her. Her children are both literally remote when they're packed off to boarding school and figuratively so when they come home for the holidays. Ruth's daily life consists of shopping and chatting with other housewives. Keep in mind that this is a time and place when people didn't just avoid talking about depression and women's liberation, they didn't even have the vocabulary to talk about the subjects. In that sense, "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting" is a groundbreaking work, predating novels like "Mrs. Bridge" and "Revolutionary Road" that would come out a few years later across the pond and that would also explore the double whammy of marriage and life in suburbia. Mortimer's observations on the two conditions are devastatingly brutal. Ruth's fellow housewives are a frivolous lot and yet "a few have talent, as useless to them as a paralyzed limb." Ruth's husband is a self-righteous bully and bore. (In a conversation that foreshadows events that set the story in motion, Ruth and her husband, Rex, have a conversation about their teenage daughter, Angela, and their duty to warn her of the consequences of premarital sex. Actually it's not much of a conversation, since Rex unilaterally declares to Ruth, "It's your responsibility. You're the woman. If anything happens to Angela, you'll be entirely to blame.") Mortimer is too good of a writer and thinker to opt for the easy route of satire or parody. Her characters are real and all too flawed, and thus as relevant today as they were when the novel came out in the 1950s. (Angela, the self-centered daughter, could walk off the pages of this novel and onto the set of any of today's reality TV shows featuring the latest oblivious starlet.) True to form, Mortimer also doesn't let Ruth off the hook. "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting" doesn't end with a trite moment of renewal or redemption, but on a profound note of acceptance and resignation.