In a finely wrought third novel from Gadol (The Mystery Roast, 1992, etc.), a young man whose longtime lover has recently died of AIDS tries to rebuild his life in a remote southern California canyon. After his lover dies, Brad Gray drifts from Manhattan to California, house-sitting his way across the country until, outside of Los Angeles, he finds a long-term gig at the top of Encantado Canyon. Aimless even before his lover's death, his one vague reason for heading West had been to drown himself in the Pacific, but once in California, he becomes fascinated by a young married couple he spies across the canyon. By themselves, Helen and Ethan Zayne are rebuilding the house they lost in a Ventura fire the year before. Inevitably, Brad is drawn to the two, who not only lost their home but, shortly before that, their three-year-old son. Having once aspired to be an architect himself, Brad winds up pitching in to help the Zaynes build a house that could save their marriage: ``It was the only way for them to get their life back, to reconstruct it themselves, with their own hands.'' And by working with the Zaynes, the still-grieving Brad gives himself a chance to rise from the ashes. In the telling, Gadol weaves together images of reconstruction and regeneration--of the land, buildings, and peoplein prose that's at its most evocative and powerful in describing the scarred landscapes and the subtle interplay that takes place among the damaged characters. All three have self- destructive tendencies, and, even as they're house-building, they're only a splinter away from torching their salvation. In a summer of record heat, Helen and Brad further jeopardize their lives by breaking into other houses simply to be in air conditioning. And when the fire season flares up again, all three are literally forced to choose between life and death. A multi-storied, strongly written novel of loss and renewal.