Original, quirky, impressive first fiction by a former Zen student, British-born, who now teaches at the University of Montana. Hester's greatest strength lies in his dialogue, given here without quote marks (as in Cormac McCarthy), and creating a kind of many-voiced stream-of-consciousness narrative. And the storytelling is equally unsettling, often jumping from scene to scene with dizzying speed. At the novel's core is the search by Rudyard Gillette, a distressed middle-aged man, for the now-vanished woman he once loved. His increasingly frantic journey takes him across the country, while Hester deftly sketches in Rud's life: his tragic, sports-addicted childhood, his turbulent adolescence, his athletic career in college. Rud's mother dies while he is still young; his alcoholic father, who's given to violent accidents, remarries; and Rud himself becomes locked in a perpetual rivalry with his stepbrother Troy, and in an equally peculiar relationship with Etta, his stepmother. Both Rud and Troy enter the world of academic publishing, Rud as a sales rep, Troy in management--with the publishing background, neatly rendered, having a grand cynical edge to it. Meantime, Gale Harmon, a childhood friend whom both had loved, has become a teacher at a Catholic school and written a study of literary suicides that attracts Rud, who wants Troy to publish it. But when Rud's father commits suicide in a particularly gory manner, and Gale's father follows suit, Gale flees, and Rud follows in pursuit, fearing that she may also take her own life. He knows only that she's taken refuge at a Zen retreat somewhere in the country, and so he drives to hundreds of such sites, finally finding her living with a fallen Zen master (a former baseball star when he was in Japan) in the Montana backwoods. The story plays itself out deliciously but has an unfortunately thin ending--all summary narration. Still, this is a highly idiosyncratic, audacious debut.