Jayne Anne Phillips is one of the finer practitioners of Southern Gothic (think Faulkner, Kate Chopin & Carson McCullers), and this is an excellent example of the sub-genre. Events take place over about three days, but she spends so much time inside the heads of her four narrative centres – Lenny, about 15, her little sister Alma, Buddy a wild boy about 8 or 9, and Parson, of indeterminate age, but probably in his late 20s – that the story covers many years. That she spends so much time inside their heads means that there is an almost surreal quality to much of the novel, and that when the violent, intense, corporeal, climax arrives the minute it lasts (if that long) comes from several perspectives, slightly out of time and lasts 15 or so pages. What is more, it works: it is a rich, emotional, sophisticated novel that does childhood and teenagerness (as in most of Phillips' work) fabulously, as it does loss, marginality, and fractured-but-not-broken people. In the end it is almost conservative – things return to their balance, almost, and it is the almost, the little shift, that is monumental, life changing, and secret. It centres on Lenny, Alma, their two best friends Cap & Delia, and Buddy, and is the real point of the story. Simply marvellous, but slow – stick with it, it is worth it.