Spare, poignant, sometimes very funny short novel about a gentle bemused man striving to hold onto hope and human bonds and outwit despair; by the author of the mystery An Occasional Hell (1993), etc. Death haunts, or bops, or entices through this quirky, unpretentious exploration of human weakness and mortality. Donald (a photographer who once captured perfect moments of natural beauty), now in his 40s, can't view people or the world without seeing inevitable outcomes of disaster and decay. His 15-year-old son Travis (star student, star athlete, good citizen) is the perfect child--except for his repeated suicide attempts. (No, Travis isn't depressed like Dad; he thinks death is beautiful, a transcendent achievement to add to his list of accomplishments.) Donald has two admitted needs: to protect the people he loves and to find someone to talk to. Who? His beloved wife seems comfortable with the world. His fundamentalist mother-in-law is sufficiently gloomy, but apocalyptic rather than sad. His mean mistress is obsessed with her own corporate success. His closest surviving friend is dying of cancer, a tawdry and arousing experience the friend prefers to go through alone (though he likes to describe the sensations on Donald's phone machine tape). Meanwhile, down in his darkroom, Donald unburdens himself to the projected image of his dead best friend (who has, alarmingly, begun to answer). There will be some uplift in store for this man with a full heart and hyperawareness of limits. A small celebration of human love that never denies unhappy realities: the satire, irony, and exaggeration entertain without undercutting genuine emotion.