A quiet but eloquent first novel about the darker side of life in the Italian countryside, but Italian-born Ricci, now living in Canada. While the seasonal rituals, daily rounds, and close family relationships of a small Italian hillside village may appeal, the penalty for those who ignore tradition-as young narrator Vittoria discovers-can be tragic. Living with his grandfather and mother in Valle del Sole, the seven-year-old boy is present the day his beautiful and independent mother, Cristina, is bitten by a snake after a rendezvous with a mysterious stranger. The superstitious villagers see this snakebite as an evil omen, a punishment for the proud Cristina, who has refused to join her husband, Vittorio's father, in America, where he has gone to seek his fortune. Envious of others' good fortune, the villagers have also long resented the family's relative prosperity, as well as Cristina's academic ambitions for Vittoria in a place where children leave school early to work in the fields. As the gossip increases and Cristina's pregnancy becomes obvious, the villagers shun the family, and Vittorio's only friend is a kindly schoolteacher. Cristina's attendance at the Christmas mass, regarded as a sign of repentance, somewhat mollifies the villagers, but their acceptance is short-lived. She decides to leave the village with Vittorio and join her lover, not in Canada, but it's too late: Cristina seemingly even in mid-ocean cannot escape the villagers' cruel malevolence. A familiar theme, but Ricci, a lyrical writer, has a strong sense of place and a feel for the stifling conventions of small places, which give the story a beguiling freshness. A promising, if not ground-breaking, debut.