True love comes crashing into Norris Lamb's life for the first time on his 55th birthday, the summer night in 1969 when man first walked on the moon. In Brown's (Rose's Garden) pellucid second novel, it is clear which of the two events is more earth-shattering. The hapless Norris, reconciled to bachelor life as the venerable postmaster of Hursley, a small town in the English countryside, has known Vida Stephen since childhood. Now 43, kind-hearted Vida has been a devoted nanny to mute, retarded Manford Perry, the motherless son of a generally absent architect father, since his birth 20 years ago. On the auspicious night when the Apollo astronauts explore the moon's surface, Norris glimpses the nearly naked Vida dancing in the moonlight around a fountain, and his life is forever altered. A shy, unassuming man, his dilemma now is how to best express his newfound feelings. Brown eloquently explores the terrain of human interactions, showing how genuine love can exalt ordinary individuals; her work is distinguished, above all, by her talent for investing them with dignity. Most touching is her portrayal of Vida's tenderness and dedication to her disabled charge, as he suffers unintended insults from the small-minded people who ignore or disdain a handicapped person. In contrast, the surpassingly effortless way Norris and Manford take to each other illustrates Brown's obvious belief in the transcendent possibilities inherent in simple acts of thoughtfulness and compassion. The quiet humor in her characterizations of the villagers and her bemused understanding of small-town life invest the narrative with a quiet authority. This warmhearted and moving story could be a sleeper. Author tour. (Apr.) FYI: Bantam will release Rose's Garden in April.