Part South Seas romance and part urban ethnic realism, Merullo's thoughtful and elegant first novel avoids all the clichÇs of both types of fiction. Lyrical yet toughminded, this dazzling meditation on time, place, and the working-class psyche also provides a distinctly contemporary spin on Melville and Conrad. Spiritually bruised and psychologically scarred by his Vietnam experiences, Leo Markin languishes on Losapas, a remote island in Micronesia where he leads an "anonymous, plain" life far from any white people. Seven years of spearfishing and woodcarving are interrupted only by Ship Day, a monthly supply run that sends "Mar-keen" (as the natives call him) into a deep funk, reminding him that there's no place left to hide. For Mahalis, Leo's best friend, and the other islanders, the regular ship visits are a holiday, "a relief from the monotony and claustrophobia and unending heat." "Restless in paradise," Leo thinks of home, Averill Beach, a mostly Italian suburb of Boston, where the only three non-Losapians he cares about still live: his widowed father, his loving godfather, and the girlfriend he hasn't talked to since Vietnam. The innocence of the natives and the purity of nature offer much solace in Losapas, as does the companionship of Ninake, Leo's lover and "female self," a healer and "spirit guide." Eventually, though, the past intrudes, and Leo's romance of underdevelopment is broken by an "angry uncertainty" and the draw of his old neighborhood, with its lifetime of unfinished business. If Micronesia gives him some sense of hope, his "leaving Losapas" for an unannounced trip to Averill Beach means confronting despair. Back home, Leo, half-Italian himself, Finds sustenance in "family loyalty, Catholicism, [and] patriotism," even though he's spent years feeling betrayed by those very values. Only when a series of dramatic events makes him realize how much of Averill Beach is still a part of him can Leo return to Losapas, there redeemed by nature and the goodness of those praying he will return. Merullo deftly balances the disparate locales, discovering wonder and grace both where we'd expect them, and also where we wouldn't. A beautifully written, quietly brilliant debut.