An engaging, often lyrical collection of reminiscences and autumnal ponderings on youth and family. Growing up in the teeth of the Depression, Holtz (The Ghost in the Little House, 1993) spent an impoverished childhood in small-town Michigan, which he duly records in this short and quietly sentimental volume written over the course of a decade. His father, a ""sweet-natured"" man who worked at various times as a trucker and factory worker, was a failure as a provider, much to the shame of the young Holtz; his family lived on and off with a succession of family members or in decrepit houses from which they were soon evicted. The elder Holtz, whom the young man perceives as a lifelong adolescent, gives his son but one piece of advice as he is about to go off to college: ""Keep your nose clean. Don't take any wooden nickels."" Holtz works to raise himself above the squalor and family history of underachievement. We also learn about his mother's longsuffering life as Holtz rummages about in her letters and photographs after her death. His accomplishment as a university professor of English (Univ. of Missouri, Columbia) stands in sharp contrast to the tragedy of his next younger brother, who dies an alcoholic at 51. Amid the grimness and guilt that flow through this short book are also some sparkling moments shot through with humor, including his description of his father's hapless efforts to fix up and sell off some exhausted autos, and the time when chickens the family had raised for food and eggs took wing and disappeared. What's best about the book, however, is the manner in which Holtz captures the essence of family, tracing the way in which, through the generations, strengths, weaknesses, habits, and particular needs are passed down. This is a deeply considered and honest work of universal import; one wishes the terse Holtz had told even more of the story.