If one of the purposes of literature is to illuminate human inconsistencies and frailties, failed attempts to communicate, and redemptive possibilities, this richly rewarding new novel by the author of Almighty Me wins stars in each category. On the verge of turning 40, narrator Henry Porter endures a summer in purgatory. The black sheep of his respected family, he is a grade school history teacher who augments his income by frequenting the race track, an obsession that exasperated his wife, who left him years ago, taking their young daughter, Nicole. Now 18, Nicole turns up on his doorstep in Washington, D.C., throwing Henry into a paroxysm of nervous guilt. Trying to reconcile his feelings of parental failure with his compulsion to bet on the horses, he can barely greet Nicole before he rushes off to make a daily double wager. Then, when his patient and understanding lover, fellow teacher Elizabeth Simmons, tells him she's pregnant, Henry can't cope. He is, indeed, emotionally stunted, trapped in an adolescent limbo caused, he believes, by the abiding disapproval of his father, a well-known judge. Afraid to make a decision, preferring to gamble and let fate decide rather than act decisively, Henry is blind to the implications of his behavior. He resists any suggestion that his gambling addiction might be pernicious. In a plot that develops its rising tension with seamless ease, Henry's lies and evasions catch up with him in a wrenching series of disasters, a nightmare than keeps unrolling until he reaches the nadir of his existence. With a delicacy and subtlety that indicate a mastery of his craft, Bausch captures and sustains the reader's sympathy for self-destructive Henry. At last, in a moving denouement, Henry achieves a transcendent moment of self-worth and connection. Bausch's profound empathy for his characters, his wise understanding that the texture of life is composed of ambiguities, failures, guilt feelingsDand a few successesDcontributes to a flawlessly expressed novel. Author tour. (Aug.) FYI: Robert Bausch is the twin brother of novelist Richard Bausch.