Bret Lott's awkward story about learning to live with lowered expectations mixes passages of polished, thoughtful prose with the elaborately portentous dreams people have only in novels and needlessly detailed descriptions of the narrator's work in a biology laboratory. (People who object to the scene with the rabbit in "Roger and Me" should avoid this book.) As Claire and Tom Templeton, a young professional couple, confront the fact that they never will have children, they buy a long-empty Cape Cod house to occupy their attention. The restoration work leads them to the tangled and somewhat improbable scandals of the former owners, a genteel family whose present decadence would dismay Tennessee Williams. The house provides the only link between the two families, and "A Stranger's House" reads like two novels, imperfectly grafted together.