Emmitt (The Legend of Ogden Jenks) has a simple, sturdy enough story to tell here, but he's barely into it before pretentiousness descends and destroys any sense of quiet believability. Bereft of a mother, then a father, young Chris grows up as the charge of his older, slower brother Joel on a ranch out West. Obviously gifted, Chris is bullied for being different at school; in college, while enrolled as an engineering major, an abortive love affair with a sickly, poetry-reading girl brands him with a permanent wound of loss. When Joel decides to sell off the ranch to a developer of vacation homes, Chris sets his engineering degree aside and takes over operation of the homestead. But the sale is finally effected, over Chris' protests, and exhausted and defeated, he breaks down. Decent enough--but larded through this realistic tale is a metaphorical journey, wherein Chris bears the body of a dead girl across snowy roads on a winter night, leading to a violent catharsis. And both the basic narrative and this artsy phantasmagoria are rendered in such equal measures of straining, goopy prose (""This was the place to begin or finish a dream, this house at the end of a noplace road passed like the dead leaving the form of home, primordial and eternal"") that even the intended contrast falls to register. Emmitt has a strong feel for dialogue and regional manners; here, however, they're drowned in the author's self-conscious reachings for Significance.