The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) cuts a swathe through southern black life, 19201965, as straight and distinct as a furrow. The stories that comprise In Love and Trouble (1973) pinion and expand the odd personality, the critical moment. But the passage of Meridian Hill through the civil rights movement, in Alice Walker's new novel, is a replay without a firm core. Meridian's great-grandmother was seized with ecstasy at the Sacred Serpent, an Indian burial mound; her father, a visionary too, tried to give the land back to a passing Cherokee; and Meridian, when first met, is a whistle-stop saint facing down a tank so that some black children can discover, without paying, that a touted freak is a fake. After a visit to a once-suspect black church she will break free of abnegation, determine to live and, if necessary, to kill "for our freedom." On either hand are her cohorts in the Movement, black painter and poseur Truman Held, given to speaking French, and northern volunteer Lynne Rabinowitz, Meridian's eager friend who becomes Truman's defeated wife. Like the resolution (to which they are tangential), they seem mandated by history rather than invoked by the story.