A special book, a singular book, a semi-allegorical charade of timeless, forces, good and evil, destructive and redemptive, is set in a southwestern desert community filled with people from the old country imported by one Manuel Cafferata who presides over them. So does their priest, Father Lazzaroni, who has not only a certain knowledge of the devil but his own haunted dream of a faceless man in a wheatfield. To the town comes an outsider, Smale Calder, who is the first American permitted to settle there. Calder goes his own way alone. He also proves to have an exceptional power over as well as an exclusive passion for the deadly snakes he picks up in the desert, charms, and houses in a snake pen. The town watches with an uncomfortable distaste while Father Lazzaroni brands him from the pulpit as a black visitation of the devil. This inevitably leads to the unnecessary tragedy which has its latterday revelations for all concerned. Laxalt's small book (many will remember his memoir a few years ago- Sweet Promised Land) is remarkably potent, with an unmistakable message which can be applied almost anywhere. It still may require sponsorship to secure the audience it cannot fail to fascinate.