Picks and Pans Review: Sister Water

updated 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Nancy Willard

Answering an ad, an eccentric young man is hired by a family of women to care for its elderly matriarch and comes to be loved by them like a long-lost relative. In Willard's heavenly second novel, this man, named Sam, has the divine presence of an earthbound angel.

With childlike candor and a maverick spiritual outlook on life, Sam quickly endears himself to dotty old Jessie Nelson, grows enamored of her recently widowed daughter, Ellen, and ultimately becomes the nemesis of a local entrepreneur named Harvey, who would like to buy and develop Jessie's property and marry Ellen himself. And yet, whatever state of grace Sam brings into Jessie's family is quickly imperiled when a vagrant woman is mysteriously hit by a car and then dragged into a lake and drowned and he is blamed for her murder.

Willard, who is also a poet, brings rhapsody to what would seem the most banal situations. Her marvelous images create a magical web of language that both seduces with poetic power and moves the heart, particularly in an ending that in itself is so uplifting as to be a kind of miracle. (Knopf, $21)

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