A sense of imminent and unskirtable dread hangs like woodsmoke over Texas native Scott Blackwood’s finely wrought first novel, We Agreed to Meet Just Here. Not for the chronically depressed, it is a downbeat parable about life in a middle-class Austin whose residents were born under the proverbial bad sign. Retired physician Odie Dodd, suffering from dementia, wanders away from home and witnesses nineteen-year-old Natalie Branch being swept away in a creek after she is hit by a Chevy Blazer, which was stolen from her neighbor Dennis Lipsy, whose son, Isaac, broke his arm in a fall and—well, you get the picture. But Blackwood’s real story lies in the quiet dramas played out in the seams of these tragedies. What to make of Lipsy’s obsession with the sultry Natalie, when he follows her into films at the Paramount Theater and sends ill-advised e-mails? Do survivors like Natalie’s parents ever regain a sense of home, or does that place no longer exist? We Agreed to Meet Just Here drifts and digresses more than it ought to, but it is a triumph of language and atmospherics and—as we’re drawn deeper into the characters’ private worlds, hallucinations, and dreams—a travelogue of unfamiliar emotional terrain. New Issues, $26