A young girl comes of age under duress and in the worst of circumstances, in Grimsley's (Dream Boy, 1995, etc.) delicate, perfectly paced narrative of childhood's pains. Although Ellen Tote is quite advanced in years, most of her story is a reminiscence, and she succeeds so well in bringing it to life that one quickly forgets that she is telling it across the span of many years. Ellen's childhood world, in the rural foothills of North Carolina, was a place of extraordinary simplicity: poor, brutal, and somehow quite innocent in its isolation from the rest of the world. Ellen's family, like most everyone in the region, makes do with very little. The homeless relatives who pass through the house on their way to and from prison, the persistently drunken men and pregnant women, the tormented familiarity with religion that pervades daily life are all drawn with the sort of ease that makes an exceptionally unfamiliar world at once compelling and recognizable. Ellen is a representative of the contradictions that surround her: An unwanted child, sometimes loved, often brutalized, she finds herself quite passionately attached to the frequently ugly and usually crude kinfolk in her life. A recurring dream of her own mother walking into the nearby river begins during childhood and continues into her old age, forming both the impetus and centerpiece of her tale. ""She glares at me coldly, as if I am some fish she has dragged off the end of her line, and she takes me by the shoulder and flings me high, end over end, into the middle of the river, and I sink into the cold, and I am falling forever, and I never look down."" The gradual sorting-out of her childhood that the dream engenders is as credible and rich as the world that contains it. Moving, vivid, and very real: a work of tremendous, quiet intensity.