The gray vacuum that is Gravel Winter's soul will remind you of the aloof presence of Gilly in Dorp Dead, but here it is kindness more than cruelty which threatens the integrity of a boy's alienation. When his only friend abandons him, leaving the orphanage without so much as a goodbye, Gravel runs away. He flees again from Mr. Paynter, an aptly named sign painter who is willing to take him in, no questions asked, only to find himself acting out the role of a polite, solicitous orphan boy, accepting food and shelter from three old people--blind, deaf, and crippled respectively--who need him to "fill the gaps" in their lives. Then, in short order, Gravel tries to save blind Mr. Gant from being murdered by his servant, discovers that Gant has slain the servant instead, and narrowly escapes becoming the victim of Gant's blackmail. Gravel returns to Paynter, though not without a good deal of silent recrmination--"You fool. . . . Don't you know that I sold myself to the first people who were seeking a prop, that I shaped myself to please them so they wouldn't know who I was?" At times like this, Gravel is so full of his own message that you want to shake him and indeed, in the twelve years since Dorp Dead, Cunningham has acquired such baggage as symbolic roses. Yet the dichotomy between possessiveness and the bonds of trust, as acted out by the sniveling miser Gant and Paynter (last seen letting Gravel draw wings around a pair of shoes he's sketched for an ad) seems to inspire this author's best efforts; even her constricted solipsistic manner is oddly complementary to the theme.