What made Hebert's first novel, The Dogs of March (1979), so unusual and striking was its successful creation of a delicate universe of thought inside a ""dumb"" character--the sort of character who is most often treated as a thoughtless vegetable, a know-nothing, a brute. And Hebert does the trick again here--if a bit more obsessively, with more flourish, more rococo touches. This time he invests wonder and ethics into a man who is not only illiterate but truly impaired, half-there: Ollie Jordan--who, as the book begins, has been evicted (along with grown son Willow) from his New Hampshire home, a shack that's hastily torn down soon after for both aesthetic and health reasons. To Ollie, the eviction is just another manifestation of what ""the culture"" (sometimes he also calls it the ""Welfare Department"") wants from him: ""ascendancy."" And this ""ascendancy"" fixation of Ollie's could certainly be termed as clinically paranoid. Still, within paranoia are many complex mansions; and Ollie sedulously goes about outwitting ""the culture"" as best he can by taking Willow--a mute whom Ollie keeps chained to him, a boy/man incest-child who is one degree more moronic than his father--into the woods. There, they try to live out the winter together, through a siege of alcohol and jerrybuilt ingenuity and trapped small animals as food. But when it finally dawns on Ollie that they'll never make it, he becomes Abraham--with Willow as his Isaac. Admittedly, Ollie's blank slate occasionally seems too empty, authorially whimsical. (Encountering and meditating over Spare, Ollie concludes, ""It was meat, no doubt about that. Was there such an animal as spam? If so why had he not seen one on television? Of course, it could be they were small--can-sized creatures."") And there are overloaded, comedic pages through which Hebert seems to coast. Yet, overall, Hebert does this difficult, involved, and risky thing with a main character so stunningly that you more consistently admire than carp: he's made a gothic, gargoyle-like creature that also owns a beautiful (if freakish) logic. And the novel thus ascends the slope of Ollie's accumulating, cracked, but somehow noble consciousness. (When drunk, for instance, he suddenly understands that ""Reality was a blend of things that presented themselves, as if for introduction only, and then vanished."") Impressive first novels are rare; impressive second novels--like this one--are even rarer. So the evidence is now unmistakable: somewhere up in New Hampshire there's a very strong writer at work.