cover image In Awe

In Awe

Scott Heim. HarperCollins Publishers, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018687-6

Heim's second novel (after Mysterious Skin, 1995) is an intense psychological thriller about the pain of love and loss. In the university town of Lawrence, Kans., three very different people comfort each other during and after the death from AIDS of a young man named Marshall. Marshall's mother, Harriet, 62, still feels his presence in her farmhouse, and she remembers well the stormy day when Marshall's friend Sarah inadvertently revealed that her son was gay: ""She felt she knew him somewhat less; she loved him the same, even more if that were possible, but she would never own him, never be able to keep him safe at her side. She waited for this jagged sadness to subside, but it would not."" Sarah, now 32, still looks like a girl, although she has used sex as a weapon since she was a troubled teen. She mourns Marshall as the perfect friend. Boris, 17, lives at the same Sunflower Youth Home where Sarah once did time. He is working on an autobiographical novel called March of the Zombies while having sexual fantasies about a high-school classmate, Rex. Fear of AIDS and homosexuality and violent desire for Sarah and other young women in the area lead Rex and his friends to victimize Harriet, Sarah and especially Boris through escalating violence. Events build to an act of revenge that misfires tragically. Heim uses his considerable talents to create a sexually graphic, somber, rain-soaked portrait of the kind of people who live in what Sarah calls ""the sad part"" of an American heartland town. Author tour; U.K., translation, first serial, dramatic rights: Ellen Levine Agency. (June) FYI: Mysterious Skin was nominated for the Lambda Literary Award as best novel of the year.