In this muddled first novel, two lower-income white families in 1960's Florida, quarrelsome friends and neighbors, fall apart, to the distress of their black guardian angel. That's Inez Temple, who in 1945 is a maid at the St. Augustine motel where the two pairs of newlyweds (Rose and Charlie Looney, Eudora and Junior Jewel) are staying. Tending the already pregnant Rose, the clairvoyant Inez sees that the new marriage will be a cage, and 15 years later, that's what Rose sees too; Charlie cheats on and abuses her, though Rose still craves the ``sweet poison'' of his touch; but their son Emory, bitter and disgusted, leaves home for good. Meanwhile, tragedy strikes the second-fiddle Jewels: Junior dies of cancer, and to please Eudora, Charlie gives him a clandestine burial under his favorite backyard oak, though Inez knows this will mean trouble ahead (she's the only one in the bunch with a lick of sense). Fowler has more on her mind, however, than the domestic upheavals of these rather dull, unpleasant people; she is preoccupied with race and the spirit-world, though unable to blend these smoothly into her narrative. So she sends Emory to cut sugar-cane in his uncle's fields, where he falls in love with Soleil Marie Beauvoir, a young Haitian and a far more fervent believer in spirits than Inez, and learns how white Floridians feel about interracial dating in 1963. The author also has Charlie participating in an anti-civil rights demonstration, and Inez warning Martin Luther King's people of the impending tragedy in Memphis. Fowler has further burdened herself with a tricky multiple- narrator technique; her nine different narrators fragment an already fragmented story whose (unintended?) subtext is the folly of white folks.