A nervous teenaged couple dumps a newborn in a box at the door of an elegant-looking country house. It's a strange way to begin a book called <B>Blessings</B>, but the story that follows is stranger still, though entirely mesmerizing.

The driver was in such a hurry that he abandoned the baby in front of the garage instead of the house proper, and the young handyman recently out of jail was the one to discover the baby, still alive.

So far, so good. Now, do you think the handyman, Skip Cuddy, would decide to take care of the baby? Can you see him studying a baby book, buying diapers and formula? Carrying her around in a chest-pack while he works, and naming her Faith? Me neither. But author Anna Quindlen can, and she has a talent for getting readers to view life on her terms. Perhaps it comes from her years as a columnist, first for <I>The New York Times</I> and now for <I>Newsweek</I>. She puts Skip into the nurturing role of caregiver and writes with such feeling that readers cannot easily dismiss him.

Most people turn out the way you would expect," Skip muses near the end of the novel. But not all. Not by a long shot." Readers who believe in Skip will be rewarded by a story they cannot put down. It reaches back into the past and involves much more than one baby's lot, though on the surface that propels the plot. The tension between appearance and reality and the lasting influence of childhood experience are underlying themes.

At the center of the book is the sprawling white country house called Blessings, where Skip lives over the garage, and the very demanding Lydia Blessings, 80, lives alone in the house. The abandoned baby becomes a welcome responsibility. Faith's innocent presence helps Lydia to see life clearly, for once, and to realize that doing good can be more rewarding than doing what looks right to the rest of the world. But don't listen too hard for a swelling of violins. This is Quindlen; the ending is bittersweet. <I>Anne Morris writes in Austin, Texas.</I>

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