Nine stories in which Swick, the 1990 Iowa Short Fiction Award winner, explores the forces that disintegrate and reintegrate the contemporary American family. The collection begins and ends with complementary stories: In ""Elba,"" the 40-year-old narrator has lived with her mother in Florida ever since the shock of her teen-aged unwed pregnancy broke up her parents' marriage; she gave up the baby for adoption, but when the now-grown child--a ""sort of human boomerang""--tracks her down, a family reconciliation results. In ""Monogamy,"" a son travels to the deathbed of his estranged bigamist father. In between these two pieces, people suffer from the ravages of divorce, sudden death, and illness. The situations often seem drawn from Oprah, but you read Swick for moments like the one in ""Eating Alone"" when the narrator talks about her dead and unfaithful husband (""The first time we made love it was as if he saw my mind up there glaring down at us like a harsh overhead light, and he just reached up and snapped it off. . ."") or the time in ""A Hole in the Language"" when the narrator sadly observes there's no word for a parent who's lost a child or for the not-exactly-lesbian relationship she shares with the bereaved mother who becomes her housemate and intimate friend. Some faltering in the leap from conceit to convincing realization, but Swick's characters--with all their selfish hungers--are made real through fluid prose and generous servings of images and insight.