An energetic first novel--a thicket of bright talk, high-flown Seeking, and soul-wrestling--that details the religious/philosophic quest of the middle-aged wife of a Presbyterian minister; in this case, a wife who relives the warm certainties of the past in order to deal with the present and its chill of loss. Uncle Deane, ""the most highly conscious, sensing person [Maddie] had ever known,"" a scientist specializing in the Arctic, was one of the two sons of Maddie's grandmother ""Bert,"" a black-velveted matriarch who wrote sonnets and set the tone of her intellectual, contentious Pittsburgh family--a family that Maddie recognized early on as ""different--so caught up in argument and high goals."" From his Arctic treks, the restless, brilliant Uncle Deane brought home tales, artifacts, and intuitions about the heroic fatalism of the Eskimos he lived among; and in those Arctic wastes--as Maddie would know later--there was something Deane felt worth risking a life for: ""an intimacy with the sublime."" But the devastating loss of Deane when Maddie is ten, and a teen-age death-vision (a dying Christ, a Holocaust corpse, an Eskimo mask), lead to the stunning knowledge that God does not save everyone; some things slip away. Now, in the present, Maddie, mother of three, and husband Nate, whose parishes are mainly in the Midwest, are both harried, tired, and despairing of putting back on track that ""runaway train,"" the church. Maddie is in the grip of a deep depression, musing over beloved dead, and knowing that Grandmother Bert, font of that ""blue nature""--a kind of benighted spiritual buccaneering, which Maddie has inherited--is dying. At the close, Maddie will learn to count off the crushing ""No's"" of life before the ""Yes"" of the sublime. An ambitious novel, closely packed with theological speculation, which explores the consciousness of a beset woman seeking affirmative space in a crowded but arid present.