The cards--and the corn--are stacked as high as an elephant's eye in this treacly tale of true grit on the Kansas plains in the early 1890s--an unintentionally uproarious amalgam of To Kill a Mockingbird, Friendly Persuasion, and Les MisÃ¢rables. Pearl Eddy, a plucky Quaker widow (who's also blind), tries to support herself and her four growing sons by farming, sewing, and fending off mortgage foreclosure. It's a relief to report that nobody ties her to the railroad tracks, but Pearl does endure a dizzying profusion of disasters, including the opprobrium of lunkheaded neighbors who violently protest when she takes in, first, a black bare-knuckle fighter named Prophet who's fleeing a lynch mob, then a dispossessed Japanese family whose newly purchased land was reclaimed for unpaid taxes--all the while condemning anybody who resorts to ""violence"" rather than face being beaten senseless. That's not entirely fair: Eidson (St. Agnes' Stand, 1994) does convey the unshaken purity of Pearl's faith effectively, sometimes even movingly. But the novel becomes more unreal, and predictable, as it progresses. Prophet, for instance, keeps leaving the sanctuary of the Eddys' farmhouse (and the little boy who of course idolizes him), only to keep having a change of heart and returning in the nick of time to. . . let's just say that this is the sort of story in which everybody happens on the scene at the Exact Moment when somebody else's fortune, or virtue, or bodily existence is threatened--not excluding a superannuated samurai ""Warlord,"" a pet rooster, and even a reformed rapist and a mollified banker who are there to help turn the tide at the climactic flurry of fire, rattlesnakes, and vigilantism. The inevitable television miniseries is undoubtedly in production at this very moment.