The arrival of an older femme fatale in a hardscrabble Idaho town drives a wedge between two young brothers in Barnes's fiction debut, a solid, evocative effort that suffers from some muddled plotting but succeeds because of the author's poignant writing about first love. The story begins in Oklahoma in 1957 with the death of the parents of Buddy and Lee Hope in a car accident. After the funeral, the two boys move so that 25-year-old Lee can look for work to support his 17-year-old brother. Their journey takes them to Snake Junction and the logging camps of Idaho, where Lee, a talented singer, catches on with a band and wows the locals, eventually attracting the attention of an L.A. club owner. Buddy, meanwhile, is smitten when gorgeous Irene Sullivan arrives in town and astoundingly chooses him over handsome, charismatic Lee. But Buddy is overwhelmed by Irene's sophistication, and soon his love turns into jealous obsession. Sullivan, meanwhile, is involved in an effort to help a local Native American boy named Wolfchild who is accused of murder. The three principals in the romantic triangle are well drawn, and Barnes gets plenty of mileage from her unusual backdrop. But problems pop up in the subplot involving Wolfchild, particularly in an unlikely series of scenes in which Buddy encounters Wolfchild after hearing rumors that the boy was involved with Irene. Barnes's rich, multilayered prose makes this an engaging read, and the affair between Irene and Buddy is well rendered despite the flawed storytelling down the stretch. (Mar. 24)
Forecast:Barnes already has some name recognition as the author of two memoirs (one, In the Wilderness, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist). That, plus an author tour, should get her first novel substantial review attention.