The narrator of this quite risky, superbly strong book is simply ""Sonny"" to his family. And Sonny's story begins in 1944 when, at 14, he meets a woman named Felicity, 34, who has moved from New York to Illinois to be closer to her shell-shocked and hospitalized husband. To adolescent Sonny, Felicity is immediately kind, exotic, then irreversibly exciting: she's iconoclastic, funny, a ""disciple of delayed gratification"" (only later it's revealed that she once was a published poet, a professor of English). But, most important, Felicity begins to tell the 14-year-old Sonny a tale--one which she will continue in four installments over the next 30 years. The story is that of Graveda, a 40-year-old woman wandering in prehistoric-like times: she meets Genipur, a young man who will give her a baby destined for a role in the tribe's history. And the allegory in this tale is obvious and heartbreaking (Felicity admits as much). But Sonny keeps coming back for more over the years, even as his adult life turns terribly sour: divorces, drinking, hateful behavior (""slime""). He returns to Felicity whenever someone dies or something rots; and she's always waiting--now fat, now thin, then old, but always in her boozy, sexy way patiently using the Graveda tale to instruct the boorish Sonny ""how evil launches us and faith comforts us along the way, and how that combination will take us to the edge of existence, where we will meet God."" No, these materials don't sound very promising: a despicable narrator, a long time-frame, a weird allegorical story. But because Graveda is Felicity, the allegory is irresistible--and Martin has fashioned the whole mosaic into a bracingly adventurous book that's light on its stylistic feet, crisply aware of tragic wisdom (far more successfully so than The Hotel New Hampshire), and frequently as intensely other-worldly as the best Scott Spencer. Martin's first novel, Tethered, was a strong hint of his artistry; now--with this spooky, unaccountably zesty, yet full-heartedly sad book--he's knocking insistently at the main door of American fiction.