Proulx staked her claim on the rocky soil of New England gothic in a collection called Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988), and puts down roots there in this dark debut novel that chronicles the slow diaspora and death of a Vermont farm family. They are the Bloods--cranky Minkton; washed-out Jewel; and the not-so-sweet fruit of their loins, Dub, who lost an arm riding the rails; handsome Loyal; and Mermelle, an object of ridicule among the children of Cream Hill because she wears her mother's dresses to school. That's because the Bloods are as poor as the Beans of Egypt, Maine. During WW II, things get even worse when Loyal jumps into his '36 Chevy Coach and heads west in order to avoid being blamed for the accidental death of his girlfriend. For the next 40 or so years, he sends postcards home that tell the tale of his exploits, including getting scalped by an Indian, surviving a mine cave-in Colorado, digging for dinosaur bones in Utah, and ending up a toothless old codger with a lot of stories no one believes. Meanwhile, back at the farm Minkton and Dub set the barn on fire for the insurance money and wind up in prison, an experience that causes father to hang himself and son to relocate to Florida. Mermelle finds happiness as a mail-order bride, and Jewel sells the farm to a trailer-park developer. Loyal's words could serve as an epitaph for the whole Blood tribe: ``Life cripples us in different ways but it gets to everybody...Gets you again and again and one day it wins.'' Not exactly invigorating, but shrewdly, imagistically written. Promising work, providing that Proulx discovers a few colors on the other side of the spectrum in novel number two.