Strong, grim, haunting portrait of a man inescapably marked by an act of violence, in a first novel by the author of the memoir The Same River Twice (1993). Virgil, a bright, restless, laconic young man, finds himself doubly burdened when his wild older brother Boyd is murdered. The hell-raising Boyd has been an essential part of Virgil's life, and Virgil's grief is pressing and deep. And, because life in his isolated corner of Kentucky has not been much altered by modern times, his family, his friends, and even the local sheriff expect Virgil to avenge Boyd's death by killing the local rough suspected of the deed. Reluctantly, and with growing despair, Virgil plots to do so. Afterward, he flees west, and the bulk of the novel is taken up with his life in the backwoods of Montana. The skills evident in Offutt's earlier writing, including his pitchperfect rendition of the vivid, terse, often droll character of the spoken word, and his talent for vigorously, precisely describing rural blue-collar culture, its trailer courts and bars, struggling factories and backroad settlements, are once again on display. Virgil expects that Montana will offer him a chance to hide until he can puzzle out what to do. But the relatives of the man he murdered come searching for him, and, through yet another act of violence, he inadvertently falls in with modern militiamen who've declared war on the US government. Virgil, drawn to the strong, independent sister of one of the group's members, finds that, no matter how he tries, violence has become an inescapable part of his life. The apocalyptic ending is bloody, sad, and convincing. As a portrait of a good man's life shattered by violence, and as a meditation on the persistent attraction of violence in American society, Offutt's first fiction is persuasive, original, and disturbing. The work of a sizable talent.