In this ambitious, contemplative first novel, a young child's sudden disappearance is the starting point of a gingerly told tale of religious faith and private doubt. First-grader Sarah Fossicker vanishes from the corridor of her parochial school one day in 1984. For her mother Anne, an emotionally frayed working mother married to an indifferent housing contractor, it is an especially traumatic blow: Sarah is her only tether to a failing religious sense and her one compensation for a life of perpetual domestic sacrifice. Thus the clues in Anne's search for Sarah become symbols of a private spiritual mission. Meanwhile, a package that arrives containing cut up bits of the Brownie cap Sarah wore the day she disappeared point to one Sister Clare, her schoolteacher, as her abductor. Clare is an abused woman of a different sort, and her loving obsession with Sarah (and the possibility that this member of the novitiate has killed her) challenges the matriarchal and religious instincts Anne covets in her loss. When Clare commits suicide, Anne begins communicating with her daughter via hallucinations and appears on the brink of madness. The spell and the case are finally broken when Sarah is sighted with her grandmother, recently moved to Phoenix, in a Chicago airport. For reasons poorly explained, Mom has decided to teach Anne a lesson in loss--and their cold, thinly drawn confrontation in Arizona reunites the Fossicker family. Distinguished by its unironic treatment of religious ideas, and for taking itself so seriously, this novel is otherwise ordinary, a bit flat, and in the end unable to fully convey its high-minded themes.