Emily Mead
May 14, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

At first glance, two teenage girls on a commune in the 1980s wouldn’t appear to have much in common with two down-and-out frontiersmen scurrying around the woods in the 1820s. But in this subtle portrait of friendship and loss, these unlikely pairs of misfits are intricately bound by living on the same rich, mulchy land along the banks of Oregon’s Columbia River. Raymond nimbly intertwines these parallel tales and manages to surprise (seamlessly working in a pair of old skeletons, the screenplay for a gothic thriller, and a Chinese prison) without letting new developments feel contrived. For this, you can forgive the occasional minutiae-clogged chapter — do we really need to hear about the glaze on a tea mug? — and look forward to more from such an astute, patient observer.

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