The author of The Redneck Way of Knowledge (1982) revisits her Charleston childhood in a novel that is charming, spare, imaginative, and funny--though without the shapeliness that might make it a first-rate work of fiction. At 13, Ellen has lived a number of lives: ordinary child of the suburban middle class in the 50's, before her redneck rather grew rich in his contracting business; belle of the back-country plantation Blacklock, a spooky, snake-infested antebellum house bought by her newly moneyed father to flatter her mother; and orphan, when her father dies in a freak car accident and her mother, also raised a redneck, begins a hunt for a new husband. (Over the years, during which Ellen's sister will die and her stepsister will go mad, she will have four.) Ellen has been comfortable in none of these roles except that of tomboy; she's at her best when climbing trees and fishing with her friend Hutch. So it's not surprising to us--though it certainly is to her mother--that she experiments with lesbian affairs at an early age. Eventually, she settles down with a woman history-professor in Vermont and with her own sexuality and addictive, dark, but loving spirit. The novel is structured as a series of short stories that revolve around adult Ellen's infrequent trips home to visit her mother. During the last trip, Ellen is herself visited by three ghosts of her girlhood self, who give the book its title. A fine and chilling finish.