In this debut novel, Ferrell takes a close-range view of Cleo Lewis, wife of Dalton, a North Carolina tobacco tenant-farmer. Cleo is all that Dalton could want in a wife--loving, hard-working, thrifty, a good mother. But Where She Was is about Cleo's yearnings rather than about facts, about her ""search for meaning"" in a hard, meager life. The novel is slim, the plot slight. Branch Creek is abuzz over a dark phantomlike man who lives ferally out of citizens' gardens. Cleo typically keeps her mouth shut when she sights him. She visits a succession of churches to find answers to questions she cannot articulate. Then, one hot night, Cleo finds the man in her garden and follows him into the forest. When she confronts him, there's a mysterious kind of exchange--few words are spoken, though there are all kinds of redolent images (dark water, etc.)--and nothing explicit happens. Cleo, however, feels disappointed, betrayed; she battles her way home to take up her life again, and Dalton never suspects his wife's inner turmoil. The story ends with Cleo replacing a piece of worn linoleum in front of the kitchen sink. Ferrell's splendid descriptions--of black racer snakes, grasshoppers, tobacco harvesting, Dalton in the outhouse, Cleo's beloved zinnias and the flowers in church--are first-rate. But a major problem here is the disparity between this lyricism and the more prevalent oblique, inarticulate language used to render Cleo's state of mind. In a wink as short as 160 pages, the task of supplying Cleo's intellection grows unreasonably taxing. And the rewards are few. All in all, the charms of the writing, these promising flashes, stand in unformulated isolation--like Cleo.