Riley Chance is an Illinois schoolboy when a neighbor's suicide sets off odd sensations in him: a knowledge of what death truly means (which he shouldn't be expected to have at his age); an aversion to black-and-white photos; an unplaceable memory connected to dirigibles. His later life then proceeds raggedly, brought to crisis by the Vietnam War: he goes to Canada to dodge the draft. But the reason for Riley's strangely unerring feelings about mortality turns out to be a supernatural one: he has lived before--twice, in fact. As ""Ken Ezra,"" he was a Pennsylvania mill-town child with poverty-stricken, loathsome parents; he killed a friend of his father's with a plank over the head--and this life, perhaps blessedly, ended early, when Ken died falling from a dirigible during WW I training in New Jersey. And the second life was that as ""Jack Pitt,"" a fatherless Baltimore Catholic boy who lost his beautifully kind young mother to cancer--despite all his desperate wishes and penitences for small sins. To his credit, Bausch (On the Way Home) avoids the cheap pop-grotesque approach to Riley's interfitted existences; he concentrates instead on the narrative structure of each life--so that the book feels like three short stories needled together. There is a slight theme--the maze of human morality--but attempts at a conclusion are disappointingly platitudinous. (""Maybe you can't get living right. Maybe it's only a little love you need to keep you from fear and fret. I don't know. Etta said it's all we have. Maybe there's no use expecting anything more."") And, in all, this is quiet, unassuming work, lacking punch--but sometimes gently intriguing.