Neither quite a novel nor simply a collection of stories, this book, Cooper's first, is billed by its publishers as ""A Family Chronicle."" Whatever it is, it works. The 16 stories here interweave to show us the whole fabric of one family's life--how sturdy it seems, how easily it frays. The Slatterys are envied by their neighbors. Daniel is a brain surgeon. Mary Ellen has a wonderful, ironic smile. They bang out harmonies of old love songs on their piano, and the music can be heard around the neighborhood. They have three children, Lydia, Toby, and Sharon; a dog; a big house with nice porches and a pretty yard. In short, they seem to have it all. And so, when Daniel leaves Mary Ellen after two decades of marriage, it's cause for everybody--including the Slatterys themselves--to stop and look again. What they discover, as they sort through old images, old stories, old jokes, is painful and sweet and very real. it has less to do with blame (Why did Daniel fall in love with another woman? What made Mary Ellen so nervous and fearful?) than with the tensile nature of domestic life: cats, yardmen, and lovers come and go. And, beyond the hurt, families stretch to accommodate new wives and stepchildren. Cooper's writing sets this book far apart from other modern divorce chronicles. His prose is straightforward but decidedly not minimalist. These stories are rich in the clutter of real lives. The same anecdotes--a shoe flies through a stained-glass window; a distraught woman tangles herself in reels of old home movies--turn up repeatedly here. And, as they're told and retold, sometimes by new narrators, this whole book becomes the stuff of family lore: truer and truer, yet always more mysterious.