Jay Alderson is only a boy when he survives the great killing fire that engulfs, terribly, the Deepwood section of northern Michigan early in the century. His family all dead, he's taken in by Norma Weigandt, a young widow ten years his elder--and thus is forged a relationship that begins as motherly and continues so even after Norma and Jay eventually come to a consoling sexual arrangement. . . and then marriage. But Norma, aging and barren, has all her worst forebodings made real when the local pastor's young niece, Marlene, comes to board with him. Jay may be a very sensitive youth: he's been unable to shoot his old, cancerous dog Ranger and finally, after letting the animal suffer too long, he resorts to poison, a less overt or violent mercy. But he does meet and turn toward Marlene. And the hesitancy of his feelings simultaneously becomes a decency yet also a torture--to himself, to Marlene, to Norma. Swanson (The Thin Gold Watch) writes of a rich, hard, rural post-WW I world with directness and observant clarity. So, though his drama--Jay's inevitable but stuttering temptation--may be a little too telegraphed, of no real surprise, and attenuated, the pedestal of time and place on which it rests is solid. A modest but mostly satisfying novel of quiet effects and slow-developing impact.