A collection of eloquent essays solicited from high-powered writers that nevertheless smacks a bit of ""What I Did on My Summer Vacation,"" except that the subject is family. The Fiffers (editors of last year's anthology Home) have convinced some substantial talent to choose a pivotal moment or person in the circle they consider family and write about it. Except for Bob Shacochis, who writes about the torture of overcoming infertility, the contributors to this volume accentuate the positive. When nothing else will serve, Whitney Otto, the author of the novel How to Make an American Quilt, chooses her cat Kali to exemplify family bonds. But it may be that these writers have voiced their various family-oriented rages and confusion in earlier works and can now discuss the idea of family from a more benevolent perspective. Elizabeth McCracken's charming essay is a celebration of her first cousin twice removed, also an Elizabeth, who was a dancer and a single mother long before it was fashionable. Alice Hoffman writes about advice from her grandmother; Deborah Tannen about missing her father; Beverly Donofrio about a dynamic neighbor. Other contributors include Brent Staples on his Chicago boyhood, Edwidge Danticat on her father's life as a cabdriver, and bell hooks on her wonderfully eccentric grandparents, who were together for more than 70 years. Geoffrey Wolff's lively entry on his father, Duke, nicely captures the ambivalence of family relationships: ""always fluid . . . to be emotionally exact is to be inconsistent."" A reassuring read, these skillfully crafted pieces plumb the nurturing aspect of family as opposed to the dark side (neglect, abuse, abandonment) that frequently fuels contemporary writers.