Writing in a Southern-country idiom that shimmers and sparks with heat-fizzy humanity, Applewhite takes on a small Depression town in the Bible Belt--with its dream-chasers, its tribal cruelties, and its Town Sinners. The chief Sinner these days is Red Hot Reba, the languorous Scarlet Lady of White River, Mo.--who's been branded a fornicator for taking up with Billy Fain (Esso station grease-monkey) while still married to popular postmaster Ray Cuddy. Worse yet, now that Ray has died and Billy has left Reba to try Hollywood (he hopes to audition for Rhett Butler in GWTW), she's ravished by loss, stays put in her fine house, and retreats into her ""valentine room"" of French lace, satin dolls, and romantic snapshots. (""What I wanted was a hot, fast, racy life and what did I get? A bunch of nosy Baptists poking their noses into my business. . . ."") But then--to the dismay of both Reba's ""semilegitimate"" 16-year-old daughter Raydune and crippled, devout cousin Airey--still another man appears on Reba's scene: a trash tramp from the hobo jungle who chops wood in exchange for a jelly sandwich, then proceeds to envelop Reba and the house like a cujo vine. And meanwhile the town cooks up its own orgy of ravenous need--as ""Possum Petty,"" an aged recluse who's heard The Call, attracts frenzied crowds with his quasi-miracles, his false hopes for the starved poor. So all these goings-on, not surprisingly, have some pretty devastating effects on young Raydune--who's at a turning-point age. She's miracle-infatuated like everyone else, even accepting a mysterious rape in dark woods (attributing the assault to a ""River Monster""). She's touched by the horrible death of bewildered old ""Prophet"" Petty, who is ritually killed when his promised miracles fail to materialize. And finally, despite her sour knowledge of Reba's self-destructive lust (Reba tries to punish the town, then decides to leave), Raydune experiences her own adolescent lust-stirrings. . . and foresees a Reba-future for herself, one of bars and men: after all, ""That's what you did when you were red hot."" Small lives and outsize passions--in a tantalizing veranda tale that shrewdly pins down some ominous folk mores.