Except for a contrived and clammy finale--an occupational hazard in supernatural fiction--this is superior creepiness, with an engaging battle-of-the-sexes texture. The likable hero is Martin Trask, the syndicated comic strip artist whose ""Miguel"" has delighted readers for over a decade. Trask now lives secludedly in Vermont with wife Ruth and their small daughter. They've been married twelve years; she's 34, he's 46, and she's making large noises about ""finding herself"" and creating an identity independent of his fame as a cartoonist. Her road to Self involves jumping into a mess of fads--vegetarianism, yoga, consciousness-raising--from which she emerges as a serene robot, a monster of self-absorption ready to run off to a brown-rice commune in San Francisco with Pierre, ten years her junior. But there's a complication: Martin loses his right hand in an auto accident. And, like a lizard's tail that still twitches after being cut off, his phantom missing hand (it's never been recovered) takes on a life of its own and begins acting out all of Martin's suppressed angers--towards family, friends, and the cartoonist who takes over his strip. Then, a new job as a teacher sends him to a small California dust-devil of a college town, where he shacks up with a student while awaiting his wife and daughter. When she does come, the novel turns bloody and forced and skids into its Ethan Frome-like climax. Readers with a weakness for disembodied hands will appreciate Brandel's classy version of an old, old story; others will wish that this clever writer would give up the supernatural gimmicks and trust his considerable gift for edgy, contemporary comedy-drama.