This laminated novel covering close to 80 years in the life of August Fielding, a Baptist minister, narrows the distance between right and wrong, sin -- or rather Sin -- and redemption for those who observe rather than those who take part in it. August as a young man leaves his father's farm sure that he wants to go to college (Brandon in North Carolina) and become a preacher. Doubt assails him when he watches some of the more carnal aspects of revivalism, and guilt will stay with him for a long time after he is seduced by the wanton wife of Iris friend and mentor, Professor Bryant. Steeped in the memories of his own wickedness, he goes on to take a church of his own, marries and loses his young wife (retribution?), loses his church, and goes back to Brandon where he marries again, and again loses his wife in childbirth. The daughter of that union will herself be visited by a similar guilt (do the sins of . . . ?) before the close. The real failings of the novel are primarily a lack of individuation: August is a naive, earnest young man -- a loving, understanding old man, with little else to attach to him. But in its gentleness and unalloyed sincerity the book may speak to others who like August are conservators, and it is handled with great consistency.