In his evangelical dotage, Tolstoy disowned not only his masterpieces but the complex world of art as wells the simple soul, the peasant, the pure of heart--these were those to whom he directed his later works. No doubt Thornton Wilder in presenting something so anachronistic, so pre-Freudian and late Victorian as The Eighth Day, a folk-saga purring with eternal verities and nostalgic Americana, had something of Tolstoy's odd nobility in mind. Of course, the sophisticated author of The Bridge of San Luis Rey is also the creator of such homespun fantasies as Our Town and the three short plays that make up The Long Christmas Dinner. But these theatrical pieces are highly stylized hymns to the common world, endowed with classic simplicity and a lyric glow never too far from the shadow of irony. Here, however, the long, rambling panorama of Coaltown, Illinois, during the 1910's, with its quaint dialectic of adversity, struggle, and triumph, its four-square characters and didactic asides, its picaresque arcs and graceful rhythms, its fancifully woven backward-and-forward plots, only hesitantly assumes the narrative splendor, the intimacy and vigor necessary to transform what is essentially a microcosmic allegory into flesh and bone. Starting with melodrama--John Ashley mysteriously escapes after being unjustly tried for the murder of Breckenridge Lansing--the romance dwells on the assorted adventures of both families, the sorrows and fortunes, the redemptions and long-delayed revelations (Lansing's son, it turns out, is a patricide). Poignancy is here, aphoristic charm, pleasant stretches of unabashed story-telling, and incidental riches. Unfortunately, the Christian humanism, the provincial earnestness on which everything rests seems both too decent and distant for our age.