Despite an intriguing start full of psychologically complex relationships and ambiguous connections, Spalding's second novel (after Daughters of Captain Cook, 1989) pales halfway through without ever regaining its initial vibrancy. The uneven tale of Lily's life begins when, as a young girl, she is deposited with her grandmother Zozzie following the mysterious death of her mother. Zozzie lives underground, an apt metaphor for their sheltered life together: Grandpa didn't have time to build anything more than a cement cellar before he died, so the woman and child wander about in cool darkness, hidden from the world. At age seven, though, Lily is introduced to a world of sunshine and privilege when she is befriended by Kate and her wealthy parents. The girls become inseparable, sharing some inscrutable bond. When they leave for college together, not even the new-found mystery of boys or the upheavals generated by the Vietnam War can separate their union--until, that is, Turner shows up and entrances them both. On a drunken night Turner breaks his pledge of love to Kate and sleeps with Lily--engendering not only a child but a new plot direction. Lily flees to Mexico to have the baby, intending to put it up for adoption, but instead finds herself teaching orphans for the sinister Mr. Hogan, a baby-broker. Here, the pace of the story shifts from the gently contemplative to fast-moving as Kate sends Turner to retrieve Lily, and the two become entangled in baby-smuggling plots and Cuban refugees--and then stumble across what may be a child pornography ring. Spalding has a fine way with conjuring complex, mysterious characters, of building a sense of barely perceptible foreboding. Unfortunately, though, she overshadows these elements with her hectic plot--one that in the end brings us no closer to understanding the characters she so nicely crafts.