BLACK DOGS, by Ian McEwan (Picador, $68). A 1992 Booker Prize nominee, Black Dogs, is about dichotomies and about man's quest to understand them. It is a story which delineates the damage inflicted by violence and the redemptive power of love; the pervasiveness of evil and the preservation of good. The story revolves around two central characters: Bernard and his wife June. The characterisations are thorough and depict a man and wife as seemingly opposed as science is to art. Bernard, a politician and entomologist, is a man of science, rejecting the abstract world of spirituality and abiding by a rationalist's view. June is a stark contrast, a recluse who eschews materialism, seeking to effect change on a personal level, nurturing her spirituality divorced from the real world. Each is as earnest and committed in their pursuit as the other. Sadly, each is as intransigent as well. The ingenuity of the novel lies in the angle from which McEwan views these two characters. The son-in-law, Jeremy, is the voice of the book. Orphaned as a young child, Jeremy is obsessed with his wife's parents, even tracing their separate lives to one single point: June's encounter with two enormous black dogs soon after World War II. Also striving to find order and peace, Jeremy uses his parents-in-law's treatment of the event as representative of the way in which they approach their lives. Jeremy recounts that a long distance behind June on that walk in rural France, Bernard did not even see the dogs, so engrossed was he by ''a caravan of two dozen brown fury caterpillars, each with its mandibles clamped to the rear of the one in front''. June in turn was left to struggle with two dogs which she took to be the embodiment of evil and which ultimately she defeated through a power she divined as good. It is from this point their paths diverge, according to Jeremy. The tragedy is that neither Bernard nor June has the humility to acquiesce entirely to the power of love. But so strong are their convictions and the force with which their stories are told, the reader is left admiring these characters. McEwan's novel is powerful not only because of the way in which he is able to speak through his characters, so real do they become, but also for the questions he invokes. While the novel may only take a short time to read, the issues raised linger on.