A lot happens to shy Bean Jessup in the course of this novel, A Hole in the Heart. First she flees her unfocused postcollege life and chilly family in San Francisco to head to Eyak, Alaska, a tiny fishing village desperate for substitute teachers. Most locals ignore her because she hasn't yet lasted five winters there. But Mick doesn't. Soon she marries him. Then he dies climbing Mount McKinley. And Christopher Marquis, a ''New York Times'' reporter, isn't even halfway into his story, an intimate look at Bean's journey from passivity to independence through numerous plot turns and a sprawling cast. Eyak's small-town quirks draw you in, but Marquis' stunning narrative pace makes Hole a rare find: an action-packed character study.