Beth Powning, Author . St. Martin's $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-312-34022-3

In this muted, measured debut, Powning captures the sorrow of a grieving widow as she revisits the past to heal present-day wounds. For 30 years, Kate's one constant has been Tom—her husband and best friend. A year after his death, 51-year-old Kate, alone in her lovely Victorian house in the Canadian countryside, is still having trouble acknowledging that he's gone. Distraction arrives in the form of a number of hatboxes from her grandparents' attic, full of letters smelling of apples and smoke that take Kate back to the simplicity of her childhood and Shepton, the family's rambling Connecticut home. But when Kate reads of a family tragedy, she sees a parallel between it and her own sorrow, and she begins to work through her feelings. Meanwhile, she grows close to Gregory, an old family friend who can't recover from his son's suicide, though she struggles with her feelings of pity and disgust for him when he makes some clumsy advances. Only a final calamity forces Kate to finally let go of the past and to start living in the present. The novel's leisurely pace takes some getting used to, but Powning does an excellent job of portraying Kate's sadness, divulging the tales of her family and focusing on the quiet beauty of her surroundings. Agent, Jackie Kaiser. (Mar.)