Like Doane's previous novel, The Surprise of Burning (1988), this is a tale of domestic disharmony precipitated by an absent father, but here delivered with an apocalyptic, quasi-mystical twist, in the desert terrain of southwestern Utah. Vance Ravel, the tormented son, was only a child when his Marine-sergeant father fulfilled his familial obligation by walking into the purifying brilliance of a nuclear-test blast (after having served his country by playing war games around Ground Zero during countless others). He vanished without a trace, leaving behind a pension rather than an explanation, and Vance has never accepted the loss. When full-grown, he retreats into the desert with his companion Cassie and their newborn son Jared, to find peace of mind by creating a garden in the wilderness. Instead, the three are discovered by a fellow seeker, who learns the story of Vance's father and proceeds to build a commune, the Er, around them; with Vance as resident prophet and only-begotten son. Cassie and Jared leave when the cult's group-groping sucks Vance in, and he wanders off alone after burning his followers out. Eventually the prodigal decides he's ready for ""a lifetime with my woman and my boy,"" but it isn't all as simple as that. He has to regain everyone's trust and respect, and he has unfinished business with the Er, though love will find a way to a happy ending. The desert settings are polished and the blinding-light motif has merit, but the plot is badly split between Ravel Sr. and Jr., and Vance's brittle innocence and sweet maudlin manner are cloying and finally insufferable. Overly sentimental and at times sanctimonious in dealing with family affairs--one for the back burner.