Again Hassler forgoes the bright satire which paced a sizable portion of Staggerford (1977) to tell a nobly grim tale about friendship, love, and death--this time involving a divorced, middle-aged college teacher, his best friend (who is dying of multiple sclerosis), and his friend's wife (whom he desires). Chris MacKensie first meets the Quinns, history prof Larry and wife Rachel, in 1961, when English teacher Chris comes--with wife Karen--to teach at a small Minnesota town's local college. And for years Chris and Larry have celebrated their friendship with an annual hunting trip. But now, in 1980, Larry, forced to retire because of MS, has weakened and failed both physically and mentally, lapsing into periods of acute depression and irrationality. Worse yet, Chris (long-divorced from hard-drinking Karen) has seen more and more of calm, giving Rachel, drama teacher and actress--and he's hit so hard by love for her that he reveals his feelings. But is it for love of Rachel or for Larry's sake that Chris invites the severely crippled man to join him in one last hunting trip--a trip during which Chris plans a mercy killing of Larry? The two take off to the Canadian woods and bunk in a ramshackle lodge along with an abrasive assortment of hunters, brassy women, and ""the Great Woodsman""--unkempt Blackie LeVoi. And all the while Chris plots the drowning of ""this contentious, feeble son of a bitch whom he hated and loved by turns. He wanted to kill him and go home. He wanted peace. He wanted Rachel in his arms."" But in the midst of crazy obstacles, there's a near-tragedy when Blackie and a young boy are capsized: Chris, astounded, watches a ""reborn"" Larry heading to the rescue and finds ""He fears for Larry's life."" So Larry will have a brief but sweet renewal in pride and self-confidence before dying, while Rachel returns Chris' love yet keeps their future together open-ended. . . . An appealing story--but, as in Simon's Night (another tale about psychic strengths overcoming physical deterioration), the characters talk a lot; and the talk is not especially bright or revealing. So, though Hassler's prose flows and his scenery is fine--and though there's a definite grabber in the mercy-killing setup--this high-minded, hortatory tale does get, like Simon's Night, a bit stuffy.