Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison (Grove; $24).
"In this moving meditation on life and afterlife, a northern Michigan family confronts devastating illness and death. Donald, suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and disinclined to lose any more control over his failing body, asks his family to assist him in suicide and to bury him in a remote spot in Canada. Although the themes and preoccupations of Native American religion—Donald is 'over half Chippewa'—form the narrative’s spine, Harrison’s handling remains admirably unsentimental. Bears, ravens, and lilacs (symbols of mourning and resurrection) appear repeatedly, yet the vividly depicted inner lives of the characters don’t rely on metaphors for meaning. Harrison gradually illuminates the often traumatic past, throwing up shadows that signify the vast spaces of his imagined world."