A luminously written first novel that celebrates--not always convincingly--a surviving sibling's redemption and gratitude. When younger brother Gabe Catts comes home to north Florida for his brother Michael's funeral, he's been drinking, and he soon flees the family and heads back to New York, where he teaches college. Gabe is overcome by more than conventional grief, it seems, and the story he tells is as much a journey of self- discovery as of brotherly love and destructive jealousy. It begins in the small neighborhood of Magnolia Hill, where Gabe grew up and where his mother still lives. His father was a millworker. He had two siblings, a sister, Candace, and then Michael, named (like Gabe) after an angel. Next door, in a tumbledown house, lived the Sims--a mother and father with two children, Ira and Myra. Gabe falls in love with Myra. But the Simses are different: Dad beats up Ira and sexually abuses Myra, and when Dad is arrested, the family moves away. Meanwhile, Michael, a promising baseball player, turns down offers and stays home to help his parents, and Gabe, who's never forgotten Myra, goes on to college and graduate school. Myra comes back to Magnolia Hill and soon marries Michael, a union that the self-absorbed Gabe finds tough to accept. He flees north, combining a successful academic career with bouts of heavy, near- suicidal, drinking. Having taken time off to write a book, he returns home once more, seduces and impregnates Myra, by now being treated for schizophrenia, then flees when his betrayal is discovered. Ten years later, dying from cancer, Michael asks Gabe to look after his family. He also leaves him a lot of money, and with some bumps along the way, Gabe finds both happiness and his soul, just as his brother had hoped. A bit too schematic, but a refreshingly different take on fraternal rivalry.