Leithauser (Equal Distance, 1984; Hence, 1988) peers uncertainly into the more remote corners of the middle-class soul- -in this sadly prosaic account of grief and desire. Terry Seward is a 40-ish Washington lawyer who sees his dead wife one night in a Virginia swamp. This is not really the sort of thing he's equipped for: the son of an insurance actuary, Terry manages to temper the imagination of a bureaucrat with all the spontaneity of a mortician. Since most of his Washington friends seem as embarrassed by Terry's revelation as he is himself, he goes afield to Baltimore to seek the advice of Curly Kopp, a lunatic pet-shop keeper who was Terry's freshman roommate at Princeton. Kopp's willingness to accept the reality of Terry's vision encourages him to reconsider the state of things and helps him to imagine the existence of worlds he had never dreamt of. He drops out of his law firm and sets off on what soon becomes recognizable as a pilgrimage to no particular place. Leithauser is very good at setting his scenes, and he manages to make Terry's disorientation all the more palpable by enclosing it within a conventional narrative that is largely inhabited by stereotypes (the cute coeds, the macho law partner, etc.), but there is a disconcerting laxity to the plot--as if the author were as embarrassed as Terry himself is about the mysticism inherent in the story, and had determined to rein it in as much as he could. This is all the more disappointing because those scenes that deal directly with Terry's vision carry a tremendous power. Ultimately, they end up buried beneath the chitchat of a thoroughly formulaic novel that they should have transfigured. An honest failure by a true master: had Leithauser only tightened (and shortened) the plot he could have hit the mark, but he dawdles his way through and loses his chance.