Like life itself, the very air in the remote Mexican mountain village of Ibarra is--as Sara Everton will learn during her husband's long terminal illness--""too intense, too quick, and too perilous."" The middle-aged Evertons left their California home in 1960 for the declining village of Ibarra, planning to reclaim the abandoned copper mine once owned by Richard's grandfather. But now the mine is flooded; the adobe house--once a gracious center for white flannel-ed and silk-lace-garbed guests--is crumbling, denuded. And though the Evertons have learned much about their native neighbors, they have erected a ""fortification"" of silence around their own peril: Richard, a victim of a terminal disease, has, at most, six more years to live. The pragmatic, non-religious Americans and the portent-burdened Ibarrians carefully, courteously observe each other. The Ibarrian consensus is that the Americans ""are kind and friendly but they are strangers to the exigencies of life."" Sara's neighbors offer her histories that loom up abruptly in a grave landscape, often tales of destruction that pivot on a random instant of chance: a red taxi, purchased with money from stolen mine silver, trails the ghosts of two miners who were crushed in a cave-in; the brother of a retarded boy waits a second too long to rescue him from drowning; an older brother's warning shot kills the younger brother, who was running off with his fiancÃ‰e. But, though brushed by charms and priests (a diverting and moving parade), Sara stolidly resists mystical signs as she waits for the latest pathology report, performing ""acts of will"" on Richard's behalf. And finally the Evertons set aside all evasions and plan for the future: Sara will leave Ibarra after Richard's death, with a pile of remembrance stones near her gate to tell her that ""an accident has happened here."" With stark, dazzling landscapes and acute, if faintly mannered, prose: a sternly handsome testament to the imperatives of mortality and life's ephemeral majesty.