Gail Godwin is one of the few contemporary novelists willing to tackle the ticklish (to modern writers) topic of religion in real life. In a novel inspired by her own experience, she does it again, beautifully.

For 30 years, Christina and Rudy have come together at 5 p.m., after a hard day's work as writer and musician, for a treasured ritual of drinking and conversation. When Rudy dies suddenly of multiple myeloma, Christina is left alone to rail against both him and God. ("I don't know why I bother with either of you.") This account of the enduring ache and adjustments one must make in the face of human loss will stir the memories of those who have had to endure the death of a close and beloved mate. Simple line-drawings by Frances Halsband ("Rudy's downstairs study," "Christina's bed") help plant the story in time and place, always a feature of Godwin's work.

No one does the nitty-gritty of soul-searching like Gail Godwin. Three-time National Book Award nominee and recipient of many other literary honors, she has written 13 books of fiction which point to the ongoing abrasion of the human and the spiritual natures upon each other within the average middle-class experience. From ground zero of her own grief, Godwin once again supplies no easy answers.

A central fact behind this book, which is not alluded to in the promotional material, is that this story appears to be more memoir than fiction. Godwin's longtime companion, composer Robert Starer, with whom she wrote the libretti for 10 musical works, died in 2001, and the anguish so memorably recorded here is set on the page from life.

Much can be said for the joy of love, which for people of faith wins out in the end. For those still on the journey, Godwin seems to testify that lived-with pain is also an inevitable constant of love for human beings and for God. Maude McDaniel is a writer in Cumberland, Maryland.

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