First appearance in English of this finely wrought novel by Norwegian writer Hlmebakk (1922-81) exploring the fundamental tensions between life and death that perhaps only love and hope can palliate. Two middle-aged men--retired Lutheran pastor Eilif Grtteland and Olav Klungland, a novelist and active communist--meet by accident outside a hospital. Olav has just visited a dying comrade, and Eilif is admitting his terminally ill wife, but these obvious reminders of death are mere introductions to the spiritual concerns that preoccupy both men. Both are at the ``carriage stone'' in their lives--a stone symbolizing the moment of choice between dying or living. Olav is depressed about his work, finds politics meaningless, and the comment by his dying comrade that it is not ``good form'' to speak about death makes him think obsessively about the subject. In subsequent meetings, Olav learns that Eilif has experienced a similar crisis: The pastor has lost hope and his faith in God. While his wife is in hospital, Eilif tells Olav his life story. He grew up in a village where his father was driven mad by failure, and where elder brother Lars was so consumed with hatred for all those who tormented his family that he often brutally assaulted Eilif. During the German occupation Lars became a Nazi informer, for which he was sentenced to death. The horror evoked by the confession Lars made to Eilif on the eve of his execution sowed spiritual doubts that would be increased by a daughter's death and his wife's illness. But, serendipitously, both men ultimately experience quiet and unexpected epiphanies that make life once more endurable. A serious book that grapples with the issues it raises in eloquent and simple prose that never cloys or tries to minimize the urgency of its concerns.