Ten disastrous years in the life of a family on Long Island, only partly redeemed by the shimmering prose we—ve come to expect from Hoffman (Here on Earth 1997, etc.). There’s really no reason why what’s billed as a collection of interconnected stories shouldn—t be a novel, except that the author apparently couldn—t spare the time to make the narration coherently first- or third-person. (More than half the book’s contents first appeared in literary periodicals or women’s magazines; it appears to have been untouched since then.) Gretel Samuelson begins the tale when she and her best friend Jill are in their early teens, and by the time an omniscient narrator appears with Gretel’s grandmother in the sixth installment (—How to Talk to the Dead—), a lot has gone wrong. Gretel’s father has left and remarried; her mother has been diagnosed with cancer; her brother, Jason, a sweet, brilliant boy, seems likely to throw away his impending freshman year at Harvard in favor of drugs and drifting; even their dog has run away. Poor Grandma Frieda doesn—t survive ten pages past her entrance, and the death toll mounts in subsequent chapters uneasily alternating between the nearly indistinguishable voices of Gretel and the third-party storyteller. Jason ODs; their mother finally loses her battle with cancer; Jill kills her chances of a future outside Franconia by getting pregnant, marrying the not-very-bright father, and dropping out of high school. Yes, Gretel’s divorced cousin Margot ultimately gets a decent man, Gretel eventually goes to college and starts a career in publishing, and some readers may draw consolation from a few admittedly beautiful descriptive passages about the natural world. But Hoffman’s trademark there’s- magic-beneath-the-surface-of-our-daily-lives stance feels pretty tired here, as do the characters. The central theme——Fate could twist you around and around, if you weren—t careful——is reiterated so often it ceases to have any impact. Hoffman remains a major talent, but she’s marking time here.