Thomas Baird's his own man--writing books which elude easy definition although he's quite forthright, however oblique the title, however curious the situation. The voyagers portaging in Minnesota are as out of sorts with life as with each other. Emma Magruder, who gives piano lessons in the winter, is a proprietary woman who for a long time has had a vested interest in her lodger, Frank Cooper--perhaps she can reclaim him. Cooper, ex-Navy, is restless again, ready to resume the normal drift of his life toward that old sailors' home. Mary Louise, a pretty seventeen-year-old from a bedraggled background, is Frank's latest sexual whim. Before long, Emma is interrogating, harassing, insulting Mary Louise whose back goes up too far--she upsets the canoe and drowns. Meanwhile Frank-who knows why?--chooses to save Emma. Both are left with other claims on their conscience to settle up (fear, guilt, discovery) for can they explain Mary Louise's disappearance, or silence it, or forget it? Baird's novel of a woman whom life has not favored, of a loner, and a natural loser has considerable stamina. It is both strangely and uncompromisingly exciting.