First novel about interlocked lives in small-town Montana: some of the portraits descend close to caricature, but when McNamer focuses on ten-year-old Margaret Greenfield, she provides one of the best coming-of-age stories in recent fiction. Early in the novel, Margaret flies over her hometown, terrified that the small plane will crash. She tells God that she doesn't want to stay in heaven, but from the air, she's equally disillusioned by the bareness of the earth. Sensitive, imaginative Margaret--who identifies with Rima of the jungle and is so hungry for experience that she once tastes a mushroom she thinks may be poisonous--develops an immediate crush on Dorrie Vane, who has returned to town after living in Chicago. Though Dorrie comes home, defeated, in a buzzard, carrying the baby born of an unhappy affair, Margaret sees glamour and sophistication. The intense but unsentimental relationship between the two is the fully satisfying heart of the novel; the sad experiences of Dorrie and other women characters who tried to escape small-town life add tension to the reader's hopes and fears for Margaret. When Dorrie (facing new pressures, including her mother's imminent release from a mental hospital) explodes in an act of violence, her behavior might seem more convincing if pat material about missile sites, the steakhouse catering to military personnel, and the Communist paranoia of her father hadn't already broken some of the novel's spell. McNamer's debut, though uneven, showcases a first-rate talent.