The small Vermont town first seen in Freeman's short story collection, The Bride of Ambrose, serves as the setting of this intricate first novel. Tyler McClellan, a young Texas woman fleeing her menacing lover, is taken in by innkeeper Cordie Blankenship, who, like everyone else in Ambrose, lives under the wing of Garrett Benteen, the town's self-appointed feudal lord. Tyler soon seduces Cordie's son, the failed Dartmouth jock who works as Benteen's chauffeur, then finds herself venturing ever deeper into a gothic maelstrom of ecological, political and personal interests. Lust for land and power, rape of natural resources, misplaced loyalties--even a lurking primordial beast--dance ominously around a rather minor plot involving a sleazy entrepreneur who deals in stolen antiques. While the dialogue, rich in vernacular and quiet humor, is sometimes difficult to follow, Freeman uses it cleverly to reveal the complex motivations of his not-so-homespun characters. Ostensibly a metaphor for the encroachment of civilization on unspoiled wilderness, this occasionally overwritten fable also brims with local color that conveys Freeman's deep feeling for the Vermont environment. (Sept.) FYI: When he isn't writing fiction, Freeman is the essayist behind the Old Farmer's Almanac's ""Farmer's Calendar.""