In his first volume of nonfiction, short-story writer Dubus (The Last Worthless Thing, 1986, etc.) reveals the passions, struggles, and strengths underlying his art, life, and arduous recovery from personal tragedy. Sparing few of life's messy details and contradictions, these 22 deeply personal essays, dating from 1977 to 1990 and strongly reminiscent of the author's fictional themes, offer an unflinching view of one man's search for truth. In ``Of Robin Hood and Womanhood,'' a childhood tendency toward ``angelic devotion to the female'' yields slowly to an effort ``to see women as they are...creatures like me.'' ``On Charon's Wharf'' connects the mysteries of the Eucharist--``without touch, God is a monologue...he must touch and be touched''--to the dissolution of a marriage once words suffocate action. Here are the joys of writing and the frustrations of publishing (in five essays that move from childhood storytelling to a tribute to writer Richard Yates); the search for social justice (``The Judge and Other Snakes''); the pleasures and responsibilities of fatherhood (throughout). Here also are moments of shimmering lyricism, as in ``Under the Lights,'' when a rare home-run ball hit by a Class C journeyman appears as ``a bright and vanishing sphere of human possibility, soaring into the darkness beyond our vision.'' The last third of the book, a wrenching chronicle of loss and reaffirmation, deals with the highway accident that cost Dubus the use of his legs, the subsequent breakup of his third marriage, and the ensuing battle for physical and spiritual peace. We are left with a view of life as an overlapping sequence of stories, answering a ``need to speak into the silence of mortality,'' informed by the quest for connection, the ``sacrament'' of ``shared ritual'' so ably served by this collection. A beautifully written, moving, and altogether wonderful book.