Jacob Bechner--married, middle-aged, prosperous--returns to his family home of Sweetwater, Tennessee, ostensibly to hunt. . . but in reality to confront an old secret. You see, a 100-year-old woman named Callie has a message for Jacob concerning the long-ago burning death of his brother Drue--a tragedy that left Jacob with a permanent burden of guilt. Thanks to Callie, then, Jacob will learn who it was that shot Drue (by accident) and then (also by accident) started a fire in his house--thus freeing him of the past. Meanwhile, the similar guilt of Jacob's mother (who feels responsible for the drowning death of a baby brother) is likewise exorcised. Moreover, Jacob's wife Molly has a confession of her own to add to this over-neat assemblage of old secrets and cleansed souls. Unfortunately, too, first-novelist Cox weighs this formulaic scenario down with stiff, portentous dialogue. (In flashbacks, the 15-year-old Drue speaks in literary, unlifelike sentences: ""When the machines began to spit, a little girl was touching the alligator. She had just leaned to him wanting to see his mouth and teeth, but the fireworks brought the animal up out of his sleep to find the little girl's arm in his mouth. And he rallied himself up to take one quick swipe, like a pair of scissors."") And the narrative is slackly distributed through limp episodes--while Cox's prose in general tries too hard in a writer's-workshop, strained-metaphor way. (""As Jacob and the children entered the diner, a flat, yellow bar of sunlight fell across the floor and up one wall as if it were a ribbon thrown down to announce their arrival."") Familiar ground indeed: a studied, faintly Southern Gothic first novel, tepid and predictable.