Framed by the familial investigations of a present-day descendant, the focus of this tight, lyrical novel is the 1891 flight of Kentucky farm-woman Daliah Burley--her apparently impetuous escape from the rough poor life with farmer-husband John and their brood of eight children. Daliah goes, flees, without destination, an act of unplaced will, and then seems to find fortune: she's taken in by a man named Caslin Krasavage, a spectacularly wealthy but sad widower, childless, with a mansion in Florida (where Daliah is quickly installed). But the idyll lasts barely a year: Daliah is pregnant; the question of whose child it is--John's or Castin's--overshadows all else; so Daliah will leave and return to live out a life with husband John, asking no forgiveness yet also exhibiting no shame. Rice's first novel tends toward the orotund in dialogue, with hardscrabble Daliah speaking such unlikely lines as: ""Some more than that, I say, not just a foolish heart like a girl's hope, flattering and vain. I am thirty years old. I am not beautiful anymore. I did not desire fretting my vanity against his smooth leather and chintz spreads."" But the jagged drama of the inherent situation--Daliah's elective double exile--is potent and subtly played, making this a promising debut, marred only slightly by portentousness.