Stay with Roper, grant him the style of his ride in this rich, strange, and eloquent book which, whenever you think you know where it's going, stops and shifts direction. The novel starts off being an unspooling, vernacular account of the history of a little dab of north California called the Cuervo Valley--focusing on the Plummets, a family of shrewd shopkeepers, and the Basses, a race of short, round, hairy hermits socked away up among the redwoods above Spider Creek. Just when you've decided this is going to be a long, Faulknerian log of past local events, the book suddenly jumps to the present: Jack Burke, a boy from Cuervo now living in Berkeley, meets up with Crystal, tall, blond, and strung out on barbiturates supplied to her (and others) by her street-hustler black lover, John LeBlanc. Jack believes that he's seen Crystal's man LeBlanc beat to death a small-time poolshark--and the obsession, imagined or not, leads him eventually over sanity's lip into breakdown and back to Cuervo. Meanwhile, Crystal, brutally raped by LeBlanc's boss, also flees the city, taking refuge with Jack in the little town and living in the house of Jack's cousin, Sam Bass. It's this last stage of the book--Crystal's rebirth with bearish-looking, shy Sam--that crowns it. Unlike even many good novels, Roper starts thin and progressively adds: Crystal begins as a deracinated, screwed-up chick; in the end, though, she's developed an almost pan-sexual, Ovidian strength. And it's then that you realize how supple and sure Roper has been, going from the rural to the urban and back, mixing styles of speech (his Oakland pimp-talk is superb in its steely menace), writing steadily, with authority and passion. True, the caveat of This All Finally Does Tie Up; Be Patient must be hung over this book. But that is perhaps the only major flaw in a toughly conceived and solidly executed showing.