Huneven appears on the scene with a California-set and deftly managed melodrama about life, love--and alcoholism. Red Ray was a thriving West Coast lawyer with a glamorous and ambitious wife--until she dumped him for being a drunk, and until he himself ended up nearly dead, thrown from a car wreck during a booze-driven tour of the southwest. ``Red Ray,'' says Huneven, ``rose from that curb a sober man.'' Where to go? What to do? Red returns to the half-decrepit Victorian mansion in the Santa Bernita Valley that he'd bought earlier as a gift and hobby for his renovation-minded wife and transforms it into--a ``drunk farm.'' The mansion itself was once the home of a rich and cultivated woman who was also owner of the surrounding citrus groves--and whose Mexican workers lived in small sturdy bungalows clustered near the groves. The hardworking but laid-back Red makes a great success of it, filling the mansion with recovering drunks, becoming well known, receiving grants, and earning the lifelong fidelity and affection of the men he cures. Huneven's story begins when Red takes on a graduate student in his 20s named Lewis Fletcher, who's in denial not only about his alcoholism but about his own destructive and immature temperament. As the long tale unravels in its leisurely way (the as-yet unspoiled valley, famous for its ``round rocks,'' is almost as much a character as the people in it), Lewis slowly gets cured--and slowly grows up--but there will be complications even so, partly from his love affair with the divorced Libby Pollack Daw and its unhappy aftermath, partly from his dealings with the treacherous local beauty, Billie Fitzgerald, partly from an old, deeply buried mystery, and partly from what happens to the beloved Red Ray. Long, slow, intelligent, and humane (not to mention filled with high expertise about alcoholism), Huneven's first offers an honest and compelling allure.