Why would Ellie Lowell, already devastated by the death of her mother in a car crash, forsake her loyal boyfriend for a Hell's Angel? That is the crux of this fine, haunting first novel, which shows how Ellie's walk on the wild side becomes a nightmarish descent into the pit. After the funeral, the 25-year-old Ellie (who for the last six years has been studying film in New York, along with boyfriend Dec) decides to stay on for the summer in her hometown in rural North Carolina, to keep her father company; the Lowells were a devoted couple, and Tom, a cop, is as devastated as Ellie, but father and daughter have become isolated in their mourning, living together like ""two roomers in a boardinghouse."" Ellie spends her days waitressing and her nights with Jesse, a half-Cherokee biker, predatory and uncommunicative, with whom Ellie has initiated a succession of trysts. Jesse is wild sex, forbidden fruit; but, most importantly, when Ellie is with him she can forget her sorrow, shed her old skin, acquire a new self: ""I am no longer my mother's daughter. I am my own."" A crisis looms, however, when Dec shows up, uninvited. Ellie, though infatuated with Jesse, cannot stand to turn Dec loose, ""the thought of one less person loving me."" The worst happens: the two men meet, accidentally; Ellie disowns Dec, but also loses whatever slight hold she's had on Jesse. Half out of her mind, she tracks him down to an Angels hangout on Cape Hatteras; he rejects her. Filthy, dishevelled, utterly humiliated, she hitches a ride--and her father picks her up. He reads her the riot act; they both break down, cry and hug; after their reconciliation, Ellie returns to New York. For all its explosive material, this is an understated novel, as much about grief contained as passion spent. A strong, strong debut.