Tolstoy was only half-fight: unhappy families also resemble each other. They're alike in their cycles of hope and despair, numbness and sheer pain. That's a part of what makes this book, an account of a family learning to live with a daughter's profound handicaps, so compelling. Their grief is a version of anyone's grief. The other strength is Bernstein's writing. A novelist (Departures, 1979), she sorts ably through her own troubles to come up with a story that is real and wrenching and, ultimately, conciliatory, without ever playing Pollyanna. Rachel is two months old, a good-natured, sleepy baby, when her parents admit to themselves that something is amiss--she is too good, too sleepy. The diagnosis: an uncommon nerve disorder causing blindness--and sending shock waves through the household and opening up a new world of neurological testing, social service agencies, brash doctors, and self-recrimination. There are more jolts ahead--seizure disorders, developmental delays--and small triumphs too. Rachel does have some vision, the family realizes, as they watch her hone in on small morsels of food on her highchair tray. In the midst of it all, Bernstein, her husband Paul, and their older daughter Charlotte straggle to keep their family life intact, but, more often, find themselves shut into private compartments of gloom or guilt or rage. At times--in the descriptions of learning to give Rachel anti-seizure injections, for instance--Bernstein's writing is so intense and evocative that the book becomes almost painful to read. But, slowly--much the way it must really have happened--the mood lightens, the family emerges, dazed but all there. Straightforward and affecting, this book could be a primer on coping, but, even more, it's an absorbing family drama.