An autobiographical novel of spiritual awakening, by turns eloquent and heavy-handed, from the late Deal, a prolific Southern novelist. The narrator of this mystical fantasy is 13-year-old Borden Deal himself, a bright, imaginative child growing up in a poor farm family near the tiny community of Macedonia, Tennessee, during the Depression. One day, while out in the fields, he meets Charles, a strange boy dressed in city clothes who claims to have moved, along with his family, into an old house--nestled in a ""darksome hollow""--which once belonged to a ""witchy"" old woman known for her potions and spells. Charles taunts Borden into following him on a series of beautifully-imagined nighttime expeditions into town, where Borden is shown life beneath the surface: the man who is sleeping with his sister-in-law, the misanthrope who loves animals, the high-school principal who lusts after young girls. He begins to understand that the fantastical Charles has brought him a simple but frightening message: ""People are not what they seem."" Unwilling to accept this, he falls into a deep fever; in his delirium he's visited by Charles and his sister (known only as She), who convince him to recover and come to the house in the hollow, where he meets Charles' shadowy family, including ""Grandmother,"" who teaches him that people are always and essentially strangers to one another. Finally, in a murky and didactically Jungian finale, Borden ""kills"" Charles with a magic knife, burns down the house, and escapes, ready to face--and love--the strangers of the world. All in all some sensitive and insightful scenes dealing with young Deal's fantasy life, while an overbearing message, driven thumpingly home, overwhelms the fragile fiction.