Fifteen years after This House of Sky, Doig (Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, 1990, etc.) returns to his earliest days in another profoundly original and lustrous re-creation. Inspired by wartime letters (just recently presented to the author) from his mother to a favorite brother stationed in the Pacific, Doig traces his family's struggles from Montana ranches so isolated that ``weather was the only neighbor'' to the shared hopes of an Arizona defense workers' housing project and back to Montana, with its steady string of natural indignities. Doig's parents eke out a living, always on the verge of better times despite the shadow of his mother's asthma and the prevalence of daily hardships: coyotes near the sheep ranch; infested one-room houses; road mud ``thick enough to float a train.'' His mother's death comes without warning, on the author's sixth birthday, just as the sheep are ready for shearing and a certain healthy profit. ``Nobody got over her,'' Doig writes, ``those around me in my growing-up stayed hit.'' Doig captures the serial disasters, as well as several cherished family scenes--including a lunch of Spam sandwiches and lime Kool-Aid--with the clarifying beauty and sure shaping hand of his first book. Even when mining some of the same material that appeared there, he claims new territory for the significant figures in his life.