From the work of the late Norwegian writer (this is his last book), there always seems to emanate that curious fiery chill of snow defining the edge of dark fjords, and this ""novel,"" really a series of overlapping sketches and meditations, again is concerned with essential paradoxes. Vesaas pursued ""appearances"" -- rocks and the river, winter and spring, the cyclic imperatives of human life -- as manifestations hiding answers (which may be simply the asking of questions). But there is always the chink in the wall, the break in a circle revealing a clue to what lies ""outside."" In the most memorable story, a young boy and his father, opening a logging road within a ""ring of mist and wall of snow,"" are briefly held in a spell of fantasy and dreams only to awake to shame and resignation. A mother, promise-bound to relentless toil, still responds to a ""hidden melody."" And there is a terrible unseen message, ""an afterglow of crimes that rise to heaven,"" when five soldiers' corpses gleam in decay in a deserted forest. In the more abstract pieces natural entities and restless yet circumscribed human quests present the bleak certainty of uncertainty. Vesaas' prose has a dynamic variety of rhythms and visual progressions so that even when the atmosphere is pure philosophic ozone, the reader can still keep his footing. But this is decidedly special.