An ambitious novel by the author of Wilful Blue (1994) about a family that runs a farm-cum-trailer park in Australia, although the tale would be just as at home in the rural US. The dynamics of the Willow family present a nightmare scenario: The mother is crazy, the father is abusive, and two of their five children--Jordan and Michelle--are lovers. Reclusive and furtive, the family operates according to rules only its members understand and accept. The characters are skillfully drawn and, despite the fact that their lives (in another book) would be the stuff of soap operas, the third-person narration shows sufficient sympathy to make all of them believable. A wily artist arrives, discovers the lurking secrets, and--apparently because his last name is Fox--decides to stir things up. The father is despicable, but Fox is the real villain, not because he sets off a chain of events that lead to the father's shooting Jordan, but because the narrator's stance toward him is wholly critical. He has no convincing motive; without him, there's no book. This flaw only partially undermines Hartnett's serious--and impressive--artistic intentions. She displays striking narrational strengths: The novel is composed like a piece of chamber music, demonstrating her extreme adeptness at juggling characters and episodes. The syntax--a kind of sunless sea of present-tense--is tailored to a deliberate tonelessness, while the lexicon is poetically rich. If the novel doesn't quite live up to the standards it sets for itself, it's only that those standards are very high.