When Claytor Carson's California life reaches an insupportable degree of marital decadence--he and his wife regularly dress in each other's clothing, they seduce a young car salesman together--Claytor flees that life of money and satiety, dropping it all in favor of a renunciatory hermit's life (silent as a Trappist's too) on a mountain top in Crow County, Kentucky. The world doggedly tries to intrude--visits from Claytor's ex-business-partner, from his estranged wife Bea. But to no avail: Claytor is intent on a clean slate. Then, however, Claytor is made to realize how clumsy and ignorant he is about this home-made life--when, for instance, he tries to kill and subsequently butcher a deer: a fiasco. And little by little the dream of hermitage and complete self-reliance fades. The local people are curious about him. They're as corrupted in their way as any in California. And Claytor finds himself meeting, repelling, but ultimately trying to redeem a young, amoral country boy named Vestil Skank--in whom Claytor sees too much of his own former self. Hoffman (Walk To The River, Virginia Reels) constructs some sturdy scenes here--especially a good holy-roller snake-handling service. Yet his thematic scaffolding--retreat/wilderness/morality--is never sufficiently filled out in terms of character or conflict. An interesting, boldly conceived novel that never quite adds up or fills out.