When Mr. Delbanco, who hit a high point with The Martlet's Tale (1966) and missed on the others, is committed to straight narrative, everything falls into place; but this story of middle-aged crisis is fragmented by the irritating dialogue. The protagonist (who has the author's name) whose world was abruptly soured and almost destroyed by the tragic death of his young son, projects his life backward. As he reels off its sequences, persons tainted by the anguish of the present, change. His parents achieve a pristine dignity, and women, merely tolerated or despaired of, become again stirring obsessions. The bereaved father's personality escapes from its confining cast. Unfortunately Delbanco laces his journey back with self-indulgent interior inserts in a wormy style which has plagued his other works: "What kind of character amalgams have we here, how send them shuffling through the deckydance?" And the narrative is weakened by too many "I love you very much"-es in mistaken deference to things said. However cluttered with experiential bric-a-brac, this is still a fresh concept of the middle distance.