A modest style, a gentle, bumbling protagonist, and family events in a low key, lend this novel a deceptive aura of ease, for just an eyeblink away from the surface action is an ambitious and tantalizing notion of love, time and identity. Homesick Ben Joe Hawkes, law student in New York City, returns to his North Carolina home town for a few days to keep tabs on his five sisters, a mother and grandmother. The endearing vision of his female household, rustling in picnic dresses, evaporates, and reality takes hold -- the sisters chatter but do not communicate their secrets; a returned sister Joanne has recently left her husband, but cannot heed a warning from Ben Joe; his tired, quiet mother is widowed before the actual death of her husband by his turning to another woman; a buoyant grandmother is weary to tears at the death of a childhood acquaintance. Ben Joe visits around, drifts into an engagement with a girl who desperately loves him, and reaches for a family tie that would bind, but the family he feels he possesses eludes him; a dead father never seems to point a direction; and people in the passing from past, present and future never seem to touch hands. An understanding of the locked and separate identities of human beings offers a key and Ben Joe comprehends his future. A skillful tale and a joy to read.