This heartfelt first novel about race relations in a small Louisiana town is slightly handicapped by the obvious: There are a few too many symbolic scenes of characters' eyes adjusting from darkness to light (or vice versa); and the final twist of plot--a black man, falsely accused of a crime, can be saved only by a white girl who would risk ruining her reputation--is so carefully contrived that it loses its intended impact. But Coulter's characters, black and white, are wonderfully real and edgy, compelling and complicated in just the right way to give their story energy. The novel focuses on the McCains, a liberal white family who've moved from Boston to Edgewood, Louisiana, to take over the management of a family plantation. The time is the late 60's, and the racial climate in Edgewood is changing, but not fast enough for the McCains. Coulter is especially skillful at digging into all the layers of the family's situation--the good intentions heaped upon age-old prejudices, topped off with defiant liberal thinking. The result is some pretty shaky ground to tread--especially for Allie McCain, the youngest member of the family. As we watch, Allie grows from a straightforward six-year-old, confident of the values she's been taught, to a teen-ager whose life is turned upside down by the death of a parent. Finally, after falling in love with a black man, Allie has to confront the truth about herself and the cozy illusions she's been sheltered by back on the plantation. Coulter knows this world and details it well. Her landscapes are textured with cotton and mimosas, washed with bayou rain and cloudbursts of racial tension. If it all gets a little too wet at times, we never doubt that the storm is real.