An unfortunate exercise in self-indulgence disguised as sorrow. Lott (Jewel, 1991; A Dream of Old Leaves, 1989; etc.) gives us an extended portrait of paternal grief so unrelenting and so ultimately barren that the reader ends up nearly as stranded as the housebound couple at the center of the story here. Hugh and Lora Walker have lost their son Michael. He was struck and killed by a car three months ago, and Hugh's initial shock and dismay have crystallized into something so profoundly silent and terrifying that even his boss takes notice. ``Son,'' he tells Hugh, ``I have three boys. I have three of them, grown up and gone. And believe you me, son, you are not okay.'' So he awards Hugh a leave of absence and gives him and Lora the use of his summer house on the Jersey shore. During the single day around which the story moves, Hugh and Lora wander through this strange house by the sea and try to imagine what went wrong. Naturally and not surprisingly, Michael's death turned over a very old log that had settled itself in quite snugly, and it makes Hugh and Lora take a fresh look at all that they have buried down the years. There is the marriage, of course: for years, their son was the main thing they had in common, and it had kept each from noticing how dreary and old the other was becoming. And Hugh's job in payroll, once he stops to think about it, is pretty banal. Lora's reveries have their own edge: they include secrets about herself that she can't reveal to Hugh. So in the end, as in the beginning, neither of them has much to say. Hopeless, plotless, and endless. Lott tries to express an inexpressible sorrow and illuminates almost nothing of his characters or his tale in the process.