Much weaker than its predecessors (The Dogs of March and A Little More Than Kin) for over half of its length, Hebert's new novel--once again set with great, deep knowledge in the fictional Darby, New Hampshire--rallies splendidly and finishes on a strange upbeat that's somewhat contrived but also remarkably satisfying. A large mall-construction company's plans for a huge shopping mall to be built in Darby is the rotor here, around which all spins. And a young newspaperman, Roland LaChance, covers the story: old money/land interests, new money manna, corporate maneuvers and feints, smalltown inextricability. But, though Hebert makes a weak attempt to give Roland an identity problem of his own (a search for his real parents), he seems no more than a recording angel for the most part--while the novel too often reads like a sociological, journalistic mosaic. (The description of a New England mall: ""Teenagers coming and going in docile suburban gangs; young couples, she pathfinding, he lugging; families of men-led children and women-led men, the tribal body warmed and protected and secured by the misery of its collective company; women in pairs, lots of them, carrying sacks of this and that, whispering to one another like conspirators. No one alone. No one Standing still. Everyone moved along by the mysterious cop of the air."") As such, it's deft and interesting enough, with shrewd reporting on the mobilization of a town's intricacies. But the novel doesn't find its theme and come to life until, far too late, the appalling yet exalted Jordan clan (featured in Hebert's earlier fiction) appears--in the form of Ike Jordan, who carries on the family obsession with ""ascendancy,"" the dan's crackpot (yet bizarrely logical) Great Idea. Once Ike is on the scene, then, all the other social mismatches in the novel fall into credible line; Hebert writes again here with his special talent for the poetic dignity of half-thoughts and irrational surgings. And the book's final pages--a local squire's planned death in his beloved private wilderness; Roland's marriage to a half-civilized Jordan cousin--are quite moving. An odd, lopsided novel, then: solid, un-compelling small-town reportage much of the way through--but followed by some of Hebert's finest fiction in the closing, rewarding (especially for Hebert veterans) chapters.