Hamilton's second novel will inevitably invite comparison with Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres -- it too is a big book about a farm family's fall from grace -- but the author of The Book of Ruth (1988), winner of the PEN/Hemingway award for the best first novel, carves out her own territory in a strong, compelling story. Alice Goodwin, 30ish, is a school nurse and the mother of two young daughters, Emma and Claire. Her husband, Howard, runs the dairy farm they live on in Prairie Center, Wisc. Farming is not just his job but his passion; the words ""Golden Guernsey"" hold all the magic of poetry in his ears. Alice admires but can't share this fervor. For her, passion seems long-buried under a heap of day-to-day responsibilities she feels only half-good at. One sunny June day, her safe life is shattered by an unthinkable tragedy: A small child under her care has an accident and dies. After that, as if a doorway to darkness has been opened, Alice finds herself in more trouble, accused of terrible crimes, wrenched from her family and locked in jail. From farm wife to felon is a big leap, but Hamilton makes it completely believable by portraying a woman whose strengths are also her downfall. As a child, Alice designed her own map of the world to find her bearings. Now, as an adult, she has to find her own way again, through a thicket of lies and a maze of ill will, just to get back to the solid ground she took for granted before. Unforgettably, beat by beat, Hamilton maps the best and worst of the human heart and all the mysterious, uncharted country in between.