Remarkable depths of pity, pain, and human complication are plumbed in this sensitive book; the language, like a luminescent wand, lights up areas of emotion normally too devastating to consider. Dan Courser, a New Hampshire wood-shop teacher, has, while on vacation, accidentally driven a motor boat over his swimming wife, Laura, rendering her almost totally quadraplegic. After a year of rehabilitation in New York, Dan, Laura, and their two young children return home. Laura's wheelchair can't get through some of the doors of the house they both love so well; the nurses they hire have a way of not working out; Laura's dependence is spirit-crushing, and Dan's guilt is tremendous--a hell, a paralysis of his own. When he can bear it no longer, Dan leaves, stays away a month (during which time Laura is hospitalized for kidney stones) and finally returns: what else can he do? ""The world,"" Laura tells a local newspaper reporter in the book's least subtle scene, ""does not consult you to find out if you think it's real."" Dan's predicament is unbearably real--Laura's somewhere beyond real, where courage and patience are the only coin. Brown (Autobiography of My Mother) establishes herself here, beyond dispute, as a major stylist--too major at points, especially when dealing (as she mainly and wisely does) with Dan, who's supposed to be by nature a little less self-aware than he often seems in Brown's multi-faceted prose. And now and then the book--which is basically plotless, more a long story than a true novel--is becalmed and slowed in the fine threads of its introspection. But even if the situation is one beyond drama, this is a moving, disquieting work of superior imagination and--just as it says--""tender mercies.