The uneasily linked lives of three lonely people--all three sharing a dread of imminent violence--fuel the considerable central tension in this sturdy first novel, set in rural Virginia. Monsignor Vincent Shepherd, 62, edgy with fears of another heart attack, his faith soured after a stint as pastor of a large New York City church, has gratefully accepted a post as visiting clergy to the tiny church of St. Jude. But the cold and withdrawn priest soon finds the postcard peace of the Virginia landscape disturbed by the ""thousand minor aches"" of ""real people."" Especially real people like the unsettling Bexleys: ""Duck,"" an ex-con and a Korean war veteran given a medal for killing 42 of the enemy; Elizabeth, his loyal, compassionate, pregnant wife; and their five children. And when this pathetic clan needs a place to stay, Vincent--bullied by his neighbor Torgeson--allows them to move into the church's social hall and to spill into his own small house for meals. So the Bexleys and the priest--hostile, bitter--warily tightrope through the days, until the violence that all of them seem to be awaiting (wishing for?) apparently finds its target. The body of addled widow Mrs. Trevinos--who annoyed Vincent and gave Duck part-time work--is found in nearby woods. And Duck, though innocent, is on the run--remembering his miserable past, thinking of how he ""tried to make a life out of what he knew,"" ending up a victim. Duck dies, Elizabeth grieves, Vincent surrenders to a chaste and giving love; and Elizabeth's baby will be born in a house crowded with children and adults--all united in the terrors of life and the joy of birth. True, Bausch expends more energy than necessary on explicating motivations; he should trust the illuminating power of his superb, gritty dialogue. But, slightly overanxious and overworked though it may be, this remains a moving novel of human pain and shared strengths--a very promising debut.