With baleful suspense, this first novel weaves the torment of doomed love into the perverse fabric of 60's Americana. The result is a haunting and evocative, albeit demanding, saga filled with eerily comic truths. Flora is the artistic and dreamy second child in Henry Jackson's superficially idyllic family of four. When Henry. a violent authoritarian, settles them into the picture-windowed splendor of suburban L.A., Flora ducks less successfully than the others. Her attraction to a long-haired lounger--another misfit--provokes Henry's wrath and leads to Flora's plunge into a secret world of sexual freedom and treachery. While enduring Henry's physical and emotional abuse, she embarks on an affair with Matthew, meeting in abandoned mansions, in a secret tunnel beneath their school, in the cloakroom of the art class that is their spiritual refuge. Together, they plot their escape to Mexico--and, hearts pounding, succeed. Except that they don't, really. In fact, as the final pages reveal (when the lovers meet again later, as adults), Flora and Matthew have never had an affair at all: Popovac's whole plot has been nothing but Flora's prolonged fantasy. Yet the author may be forgiven this too-easy conclusion, considering the real power of what precedes it--a novel, though written in the third person, that offers the passion and immediacy of an adolescent diary.