Jewel Mzar and Dante love each other. But Virgil Penhaligan, the town madperson, and Donnie James Champlin, a local ne'er-do- well, are also in love with Jewel. Will one of the latter avenge himself on one of the women for the illicit love they share? Such is the suspense that threads through this uneasy, somewhat understuffed second novel by Ohio (The Finer Grain, 1988--not reviewed). In the small town of Cascade, Oregon, the sole attraction is the crumbling art deco Empire Movie Theater, which shows only film noir movies. Here, Jewel, a cold young raven-haired beauty, runs the popcorn concession; Donnie Champlin is the projectionist; and Virgil Penhaligan occupies himself as a sort of deranged Christian janitor. When the stranger Dante rides into town on her Harley, she, too, is given a job at the Empire. And so the bleak, empty Empire is the place where Dante and Jewel--who, it transpires, have met and loved before--are discovered in flagrante delicto by Virgil, who has drilled a hole in the broom closet wall the better to watch Jewel at her ablutions in the ladies' room. Later, Donnie, a frustrated painter, also takes a peek. When finally that night both men follow Jewel to her mobile home on the dark edge of town, themselves trailed by Dante, who is on the verge of fleeing from her fearful passion for her lover--well, Jewel is saved, but the Empire is set aflame by the sin-obsessed Virgil, and Dante, watching the flames, is jolted into accepting Jewel's love--the first time she's been able to love since childhood. The setting is minimal, the drama is stark, and the jittery narrative consists of alternating streams-of-consciousness, such as this one from Dante: ``Fire. Love. What am I missing then? The ability to believe, not only in my own survival but the survival of someone else--what is both me and not me. This fire. This love.'' This is hard going.