In California and Other States of Grace (1980), Theroux reminisced about family and forebears and the unsuspected perils of a relatively well-to-do Catholic girlhood; now she writes as the head of a single parent household with three children--coping, snatching at brief joys and ""cheap thrills,"" and, alas, succumbing to mild preachment. There are still, however, those delightful childhood parent portraits. Father did, on occasion (only on occasion), ""part the Red Sea of Impossibility and elbow me across""; Mother knew that ""greatness has its own gestation period and could theoretically descend in the last ten minutes of life."" There are affectionate anecdotes about her children--who ""daily upgrade the quality of one's thinking, the extent of one's selfishness, the depth of one's love."" There is the interplay of individual and community: the shared joy of a neighborhood wedding celebration; the web of kindness among the ""lowlife"" of the town (the women, children, old men, delivery boys--all those left when the ""swift and powerful"" commute to the city); the daring experiment of renting a nun's costume and roaming the city, strangely isolated (""the world doesn't allow a nun to understand""). Best of all are Theroux's reports on coping mechanisms in the rickety course of the day--fantasies while cleaning (from ""Jackie O's maid"" to the Mystic or Romantic), or the languor of not planning ahead (when puzzled or in a dilemma, she would wait for the phone to ring--and ""the person on the other end would clear it up for me""). Theroux also harks back to a family heritage of riding out financially ""perilous times""--after all, ""can someone who still gets the New Yorker go broke?"" When not preaching, then, a book with great charm and a delightfully quirky fancy.