Hustvedt's second outing abandons the cerebral regions of postmodernism (The Blindfold, 1992) and turns to the familiar melodramas of small-town gothic. Nineteen-year-old Lilly Dahl lives in Webster, Minnesota, rooms over the main-street cafe where she works as waitress, and has ambitions of becoming an actress--she's learning, in fact, the role of Hermia for a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The dream-world of Shakespeare's play and the events here befalling the hapless Lilly are often dovetailed neatly enough by Hustvedt, but at the same time her heroine's credibility-stretching tale of perversion, mystery, and obsession groans with the familiar. The seeming start of things was the long-ago killing of a woman named Helen Bodler, whose farmer husband is said by some to have buried her alive. Waitress Lilly serves breakfast daily to Helen's now-grown sons, the demented and unwashed bachelor farmers Frank and Dick, and to another distant relative of the dead Helen's, the eccentric loner Martin Petersen, ex-childhood playmate of Lilly herself. When eerie things start happening, then, there is no dearth of suspects--excluding neither Mabel Wasley, Lilly's 78-year-old neighbor who types all night and has secrets aplenty up her sleeve, nor Ed Shapiro, the handsome artist and out-of-towner who knows all about opera, works on his mysterious canvases all night--and steals Lilly's susceptible heart. When new murders and spectral sightings (of Lilly herself, no less) are reported, our feisty heroine turns fearless gumshoe (""She froze and held her breath. . . . But Lily knew that she was going to lurch headlong into whatever was waiting for her""), managing finally not only to expose all but to play a cool hand when Ed Shapiro at last offers to waft her away to New York City. Mystery, murder, and provincial caricatures, all in a readable but curiously dusty mix from a writer whose aims seemed higher the first time around.