STAYING AFLOAT by Muriel Spanier (Random House: $17.95). Have you ever suffered the loss of a love? Have you ever wanted to die over it? Have you ever found yourself barely able to stay afloat, barely able to handle even the small details of your day-to-day existence? If so, meet Sylvie Weyman. You two have several things in common. How Sylvie handles the loss of her daughter and how she ultimately survives that loss are the dual themes of this quietly stunning first novel. Muriel Spanier's seamless flashbacks allow us to see Sylvie as a protective mother, repressed wife, relieved widow and adored daughter. In the present, we see her disengaged from every significant person in her life: She is distant with her employers; disinterested with her supportive lover; judgmental with her son-in-law--and self-pitying with herself. All of these richly defined characters have their own pain, their own collection of mistakes, their own scratches from stumbling and their own strategies for surviving. "Staying Afloat" shows us how Sylvie finally stops looking at the bottom of her literal and psychic swimming pool and comes up for air.