Kingsolver (The Bean Trees, 1987; Homeland, 1989; Holding the Line, 1989) now offers a complex but overly calculated novel--unsubtle messages set against spectacular southwestern scenery. Codi Noline takes a job teaching high school in her hometown of Grace, Arizona, partly in order to keep an eye on her doctor father, ailing With Alzheimer's disease, but mostly because--unlike her idolized sister Hallie, who's off in Nicaragua improving Sandinista agriculture until her kidnapping and murder by the contras--Codi has no direction to her life. She always felt like an outsider in Grace, a folkways-rich century-old Spanish-American town where almost everyone is related. She was three when her mother died; later, pregnant after a brief high-school affair with handsome Apache Loyd Peregrina, she lost the stillborn baby. As an adult, Codi is reluctant to form attachments. But once back in town, she nervously resumes her relationship with Loyd (who never knew about the pregnancy). Along the way, Codi--who whines that Hallie is the idealist, that she herself stands for nothing--lectures him about cruelty to animals (he gives up cockfighting); risks dismissal by the school board by teaching about environmentalism and birth control (she's named Teacher of the Year); and helps the Stitch and Bitch ladies' sewing-club stop the mining company from poisoning the river and the orchards. Kingsolver has political conviction, a wonderful eye for the surface of things and many charming poetic conceits, but here her characters seem constructed rather than real. A promising miss.