In January 1973 the real island of Heimaey off the coast of Iceland was the site of an erupting volcano which nearly destroyed the whole town of Vestmannaeyjar. Hayes, who spent three weeks in the town during the disaster, has novelized the first night's horror and the subsequent three-months fight against total annihilation. His story begins promisingly, full of clearly observed characters and rich description, then gradually develops into volcano-opera, along typical disaster-novel lines. But perhaps volcano-opera is unavoidable in this depression-ridden, alcoholic village, where daylight is only a handful of hours during the midday, most of the villagers existing in hopeless hope. Margret Magnusdottir, the heroine, is married to Arni Loftsson, the school teacher who has become an unregenerate drunk in the five years of their marriage. Pregnant and afraid to tell raging Arni (who's been unhinged by a domineering mother and a father who shot himself), Margret leaves and--during the first nights of the holocaust--takes up with Owen Llewellyn, a N.Y. photographer, who is helping the town leaders fight the lava spill. Others in the general gloom include a bookseller, his wife and their roust-about son; a local nature painter subsidized by the government and without hope of ever leaving the island; Karl Sveinsson, who is fighting the volcano as if it were a virago he calls ""The Bitch""; the town doctor, the French whore, and others, each with his or her family problems. Absorbingly crafted, with plenty of hellish--and dullish--moments.