In this spooky, sharply written second novel, a social misfit rambles through classic American Badlands territory, emerging with newborn sanity and decency despite the odds. Utah-born Rock (This Is The Place, 1997) mines a crystalline vein by slipping his wandering cipher of a protagonist, Alan, into one scene after another in which modern dysfunction and rural claustrophobia combine with horrific possibility. Museum guard Alan is sprung from his life back East when a dalmatian falls down a cliff and lands at his feet. A proto-Travis Bickle, with potential for good or evil, steals the injured dog from its callous owner, the first of a series of characters who train, trap, torture, or otherwise dominate animals (and, by extension, people). The fractured, off-center narrative short-circuits conventional thriller/serial-killer conventions, so that Alan at first barely inhabits each set piece--an encounter on the frozen Great Lakes with a solitary woman; a strange saving friendship with Upper Wisconsin recluse Eddie Polenka, whose barn is full of ""unrealistically"" stuffed animals and who hints at a crowning achievement (skinning a woman). Meanwhile, Alan's presence grows less peripheral, and his humanity increases by hard-won increments, through progressive psychic ordeals: as a mechanic for a Montana doomsday cult, lover of a woman who raises tigers for illegal big-game hunting ranches in Texas, witness to a polygamous Mormon village. Full of scenes of zoos, race tracks, farms, and a boot camp for rebellious teens, the novel underscores the frail divide between so-called social man and the animals he subjugates. Despite the burden of its sometimes autistic narrative structure, and a few too many enigmatic interactions, here's fiction that's often exciting to read for all the old reasons: voice, vision, talent, guts.