First-novelist Kaser populates this West Virginia tale with a cast of stubborn eccentrics who shower grace upon the sad determinism of the plot. Aaron Brand is a young boy living in Aracoma; his song-collecting brother, Jerem, is killed in Korea, but their grandmother Mira, mystical and canny and shrewdly wealthy, assures the younger son that Jerem is indeed coming back. And that mythical return--Hope--gold-threads the disappointment Aaron can only feel at dismaying subsequent events: birth of an albino-cretin brother; death of his mother; remarriage of his father; mine collapses; and, finally, plunder of the land by oil interests. Somehow, through it all, Mira keeps Aaron just enough off-balance to save him from the meanness of his surroundings--by force of her rather spooky and poetic character, by tending her flock of backwoods oddball tenants (from whom she duns more wisdom than money): the ""Hog Woman""; the ""Star Professor,"" an ex-astronomer who grows wondrous vegetables on a hilltop eyrie and peers at the heavens through a glassless telescope. Kaser is a sensitive, daubing impressionist--on a snow-cloudy day the sun that appears is ""dim green""--but he doesn't yet know how to pace a novel: the lethargy of simply too many phenomena sludges his story from the start. A worthy debut, then, which promises fine, alert novels ahead if Kaser can learn how to unthicken his poetry and make it fleet.