As in her other three Southern novels, Wilkinson tests the malignant heats and tantalizing strengths of an inbred society. Here Jean--gently reared and about to join an Appalachian teaching project--discovers the frozen body of a 19-year-old mountain woman. Pondering this apparent suicide (did she ""just give up?""), Jean begins her overlapping journals--sampling her past among the war games of caste, race, and sex, and rummaging through the addled heads (and twangy voices) of the violent, oppressed people she encounters. Then there's a trip abroad, which offers comfortably distant but still insidious reminders of savagery past and present: from Dachau to semi-comic hostilities about a ferryboat seat; from homegrown bigotries articulated by travelers to the ""bubbling yellow ground"" of Iceland that reminds you to ""pay attention to where you are."" Home again, Jean starts her assignment in Rocky Gap, unaware at first that the surrounding mountains are essentially a prison wall. But she begins to understand mountain people--people flung homewards into a static negation, those who will die, and those like Old Mollie who exult in survival but wither outside the wall. In the ""thin air, morning fog, and black-green trees,"" Jean tries to build art classes, and win confidences, while there are hints about another outsider murdered, capricious slights and silences. At the last, she waits in her cottage alone at night as ""everything in the world is crawling toward my house."" A subcutaneous chiller with more than a mite of preachments about the shadow of prime evils and their dismally circular generation.