Bodett, of Motel 6 commercial and NPR fame, author of collections of homespun vignettes such as The End of the Road (1989), offers a flawed but often moving first novel. Webster Cummings, a Boston statistician, falls from an airplane over New Hampshire but happens to land in perfect tandem with the angle of a ski slope. He slides into the valley below and uphill again, then is catapulted to his feet like some sort of superhero. This near-death experience causes Webster to reassess his thus far inconsequential life: An adoptee, he becomes obsessed with finding his real mother and father. From this grand and amusing, if unlikely, premise, Bodett begins peeling away layers of mystery, beginning in Alaska with a teenaged couple banned by a cruel old patriarch for sleeping together out of wedlock, then to Ohio, Indiana, Seattle, and the fruit country of north-central Oregon--where most of the story is set. No doubt about it, Bodett loves his small-town folk and does them beautifully: a fragile, naâ€¹ve Ohio couple who trade in their home for a gas-guzzling RV and go visit the children who don't want to see them; a dreamy, homeless man who wanders the Seattle waterfront, reporting for his various ""jobs""; a heavy equipment operator who loses his arm in an accident, drifts toward alcoholism, and finds redemption in bringing to life a failed peach orchard. Just as often, Bodett is a masterful light satirist: His portrait of a bicoastal yuppie couple having their first baby is a scream. When it comes to plotting, however, Bodett is a third-rate Dickens, relying on contrivance and coincidence to bring his huge cast together. So the only reason to read him is his people, who break your heart.