A meditative, slow-moving, and thoroughly absorbing family drama--about loving, losing, and holding on to all we can--from the author of (the Oprah-chosen) The Book of Ruth (1988) and A Map of the World (1994). The story's protagonist and primary viewpoint character is Walter McCloud, whom we observe (in alternating chapters) as a sensitive, bookish, and--he's quite sure--homosexual teenager growing up in an Illinois suburb in the early '70s among a trio of close friends and fellow ballet students, including beautiful Susan Claridge and her equally beautiful boyfriend (and Walter's sometime sexual partner), Mitch Anderson; and also 25 years later, when Walter, who has long since given up ballet, returns ``home'' to teach high-school English in Otten, Wisconsin, not far from the gorgeous lakeside summer place owned by his mother's family. It's a richly varied narrative, whose emotional high point is the lingering death from Hodgkin's disease (in 1973) of Walter's older brother Daniel (with whom Susan forms a surprisingly emotional intimate relationship, painfully reshuffling the trio's already complicated feelings for one another). Other losses, both threatened and endured, figure prominently: the likelihood that the frosty maiden aunt who had awakened Walter's aesthetic sense will force the sale of the family's beloved summer house; and Walter's burden of guilt over ``his shameful relations with Mitch, his hateful feelings toward Susan, his indifference to his brother.'' Hamilton writes beautiful summary and descriptive sentences; unfortunately, though, Walter (who is, to be sure, presented as unusually intelligent and articulate) speaks in almost precisely the same manner. This tendency toward formality creates a distance from the reader that is, however, vitiated by our genuine empathy with the novel's many vividly drawn characters (the inquisitive and querulous Mrs. Gamble is an especially memorable figure). Hamilton ends it with a beautiful coda that may remind readers of both Michael Cunningham's Flesh and Blood and James Agee's A Death in the Family. Like them, this is a lyrical, bighearted novel that won't easily be forgotten.