When friends-for-life Jude and Molly were girls in Tennessee, they liked to pretend they'd been brought up in the wild by wolves. They'd speak their own wolf-child language, while trying to decipher the human world around them.
For Jude, this novel's main character, that world includes several violent, haunting deaths in her immediate circle and a confused sexuality (the reader understands Jude is a lesbian many irritating pages before she does).
Molly grows out of being both a wolf-child and a lesbian, becoming a born-again Christian before her death in a car accident. Despite an adventurous adulthood, Jude stays gratingly naive.
Somewhere between the moving and hilarious Kinflicks (the author's first novel) and Heaven (her fifth), Alther lost her sense of humor. Without that humor to alleviate Jude's pain, the reader just wants Jude to reach some kind of self-awareness in order to put both herself and the rest of us out of our misery. Unfortunately, that epiphany is far too weak and too late in the book to save anybody. (Dutton, $22.95)