Illicit love of the most explosive kind for a small town in 1940s North Carolina is the theme of French's second novel-- following his acclaimed debut, Billy (1993)--but this would-be sizzler fizzles, defused by pointless heaps of girl talk and basic teen turbulence. Holly is 19, then 20. Blond, beautiful, and the object of young men's eyes, she frequents the dives of Supply, her backwater hometown, and nearby Wilmington, both bustling with sailors in 194445. A painful family life--boozing father, daydreaming mother, a Marine brother fighting in the Pacific--has driven her to seek thrills, along with her similarly bored but less endowed sidekick, Elsie. But then brother Bobby comes home from war transformed, having been shot in the head, and Holly's agonized decision to dump her fiancÇ, also in the Pacific, burdens her with guilt when he's subsequently killed and buried at sea. Seeking solace, she haunts the creek of her youth, which separates the white part of town from the black-inhabited ``Back Land,'' there encountering a one-armed black painter also on the mend from the horrors of war. At first resistant to their mutual attraction, Holly soon realizes that Elias's sensitivity and intelligence are what she's been longing for and follows her feelings. Pregnant, she turns to Elsie for support only to have her trust betrayed, and her love swiftly becomes a casualty of a different, far more ancient and ugly war. While stylistic choices (present-tense narration and an in-your- face southern dialect) are intriguing, Holly's trauma is long on angst and short on action, and what action there is follows familiar plot paths. An inconsequential, though honest, tale of love and life in race-conscious America.