Love thine enemies. Which one of the Patriarchs thought that up? . . . the only way you get enemies is by having people say they love you."" In this pungent, slashing first novel, set in rural Mississippi, Hill--whose acidulous, yet achingly acute regional recognitions remind one of Mary Lee Settle's West Virginia home-journeys--probes the tenderest hurts and guilts, the rage at childhood ties which still bind and lacerate. Jeannine Lewis, wife of Des Moines company-man Larry (""mine to maintain till death do us part. Parts and services"") and mother of five-year-old Laura, has returned to her Mississippi home to visit widowed mother Melvinia--and to break the news that she may leave Larry. ""I took pains not to marry my father,"" says Jeannine; she chose gentle Larry instead of someone like father Sumhall--who drank, beat his wife and kids. But now Melvinia has promoted Sumhall to sainthood--and wishes Jeannine were more like childhood friend Carrie Dean: submissive wife, sacrificial mother, a staple of the church choir. So Jeannine visits Carrie, finding her a serf to her cheating husband and callous mother-in-law. She also drinks with razzle-dazzle ""dee-vor-cee"" Drew, who throws out (in her trash dialect) a beady-eyed distinction between men-for-sex and meal tickets. And, through days of flapping kinfolk, sour gossip, a dance-and-drink lounge, a cousinly pass, false tears, and real anger, Jeannine ponders everything from the subliminal violence in church-preaching to parents to the chess-game of the sexes: ""The queen's job is not to live, but to maintain at all costs defenses within which the king takes his measured step."" Her conclusion? Beware of slim, unintimidating men like Larry, with ""long open-handed arms that advertise no weapons. . . . They will give up nothing."" Thanks to a marvelous ear for speech and an eye for a landscape of huddled tribal statements, Hill stares down a nest of deadly inter-relationships until they're reduced to the shards, the indissoluble shards, of love. A fine first novel--with local recognitions as heaped and eye-smarting as an overflowing ashtray--from a promising new talent.