Duncan is an oddball, mid-Sixties ex-seminarian--who, in hopes of communally outliving nuclear destruction, has come up with the idea of a colony in the wilderness in the Southwest. His fellow colonists--all lured by Duncan's magazine ad--are seekers, then, each of them incomplete enough in love or life or generalized anxiety to respect Duncan's half-mad terms absolutely: no news from the outside world, utter harmony among them, no pregnancies, etc. And once Petesch (After the First Death There Is No Other, Soul Clap His Hands and Sing) has these elements of the frame locked together, the characters--the colonists--come on stage one by one: Klara, the octogenarian and social-protest veteran; Carillo, the Vietnam-vet and revolutionary; Pinosh, the epicene former puppeteer; Jennifer, the 14-year-old runaway; and a handful of less well-etched, less interesting characters. Of course, despite Duncan's strictures, the arrangements of a society do take place--pairing and unpairing, alliances and jealousies. But, despite these shiftings, the novel--intentionally claustrophobic to begin with--ends that way as well, energized only erratically by the colonists' individual unvoiced thoughts. So, though Petesch writes with admirable perspective on her characters, they never transcend the stock-formulations of the desert island/lifeboat situation they're enrolled in--and this dense, intelligent fiction remains far too predictable and static for real involvement.