Readers devoted to popular fiction will enjoy this debut novel by St. Paul writer Kate Ledger, with its complex characters, intense emotions and well-structured narrative.

The story's center is the disintegrating marriage of Simon and Emily Bear. Both are products of dysfunctional families, both traumatized by the sudden death of their son, Caleb, both unable to relate to their teenage daughter, Jamie.

Simon, a doctor, is obsessed by his discovery of a pain reliever that he believes will revolutionize the profession, and this obsession further distances him from his family. Emily, feeling abandoned, begins an affair with an old flame. Jamie retreats further into adolescent isolation.

Ledger sets the book in Baltimore, creating an effective sense of place. Especially effective is her convincing rendering of the particulars of medical practice, along with hospital protocols, winemaking and Jewish religious ritual.

Ledger's dialogue is credible, particularly adolescent Jamie's deliberately uncommunicative and provocative responses to her parents' attempts to relate to her. The angry exchanges between Simon and Emily all but crackle.

The reader does not, in the end, learn if Simon's discovery will prove a miracle, nor does one learn if this marriage will be saved. The book's focus is not on how things turn out, but on the dynamics of relationships stressed by unending grief and profound guilt.

"Remedies" exhibits minor flaws. The pace lags now and again, interrupted by a few too many flashbacks. The author's style tends toward the florid when emotions surge. And some story factors -- the infant Caleb's death, for instance -- are visited too often.