Kaye Gibbons, whose debut, Ellen Foster, was chosen for Oprah's Book Club, Divining Women is her first novel since 1999. Darker than Gibbons' previous novels, Divining Women evolves into an almost gothic tale as the somewhat na•ve and unsuspecting young Mary Oliver heads south from Washington, D.C., to Elm City, North Carolina, in the autumn of 1918 to be a companion for her pregnant aunt, Maureen. Because the war has interrupted Mary's plans to study abroad, her mother thinks this experience will enrich her. "These next months of your life will always be a blessing," she says, unaware that her brother, Troop, is a pretentious, cruel man who has not only abused his wife emotionally, but subjected her to excruciating "cures" for her "melancholy."As a bond of trust develops between niece and aunt, Maureen begins to awaken from her self-protective stupor and realize the full extent of Troop's crimes against her. The tension mounts as Maureen's confidence builds, Mary becomes more outspoken, and Troop, in reaction to the threat to his power, attempts to tighten his stranglehold over the women even further. In spite of being isolated, Mary and Maureen become connected to other female family members and friends through letters, and that connection, that safety net, that encouragement to grab onto life, so skillfully handled in Gibbons' lyrical style, renders the tortuous experience a blessing after all. "This house is full of women," Maureen says cryptically. "They come and go like nothing you have ever seen."Linda Stankard writes from Nanuet, New York.