In this earnest, thoughtful, but rather droning first novel, alternating narratives center on three women whose small-town Pennsylvania lives--constrained and invaded by past and present relationships with men--pivot on the implacable, magnetic presence of one man, Darcy Blunt, the town renegade and drunk. Darcy's mother Lilly and her withdrawn teenage grandson Tim often go searching for Darcy through streets of watching townsfolk. And Lilly, who passed from ""proper to common"" in the town's social hierarchy after the suicide of her embezzler-husband, muses on her increasingly unsatisfactory life with dead husband Aaron; on the ""pain"" that existed between callous Aaron and son Darcy; on Darcy's wife Evelyn, a waif and wanderer who left after Tim's birth, refusing to stay with a man ""who collects flawed people like they were stray dogs."" (Evelyn now circles around in California, joining marches and causes, ""crazy as a loon."") The second key woman in Darcy's life these days is promiscuous young Ellen, adored daughter of a clumsy local crusader, a loving but hapless father. (He insisted on educating his deaf son himself, starting with Volume A of the encyclopedia, driving the boy to drugs.) Is Darcy just another of Ellen's one-night stands--or has she somehow found a core to her life in this unmarriageable, unreliable, unapologetic town disgrace? And woman #3 is Jessie--rejected by her supposed true-love, now living with her gentle father, finding excitement in Darcy (who can make her laugh), and desperate enough to pretend that her uterine disease is a real pregnancy. (This ""dream baby"" keeps her father alive and delights Darcy.) At the close, then, with Darcy dead, Jessie contemplates an aloneness which has ""the seeds of pride""; Lilly finds in laughter a God who ""lives in the world""; and Ellen prays for a new beginning in the ""pulsing of death."" The three women here are a somewhat strained, monotonic, unengaging central focus. But there are impressive moments (the painful encyclopedia drill sessions with the deaf son, for example), a rooted small-town ambience, and worthy--if uninspired--treatment of some grim psychosexual shackles.