A debut collection weaves several narratives into one richly defined (if oddly static) tapestry portraying the history and obsessions of a troubled Jewish intellectual family. Ruth Klingle, the narrator, stands at the center of most of the ten pieces here. A young mother who grew up in suburban New Jersey, she is married to her old high-school headmaster--a vicious Dickensian bigot who in his fits of rage and paranoid racism isn't able to show us what could have attracted Ruth to him in the first place. We learn early on that Ruth's father molested her on a regular basis throughout her childhood, and that her mother learned of this many years later, to her great consternation and chagrin. Ruth's own feelings about it are submerged and surface only obliquely, mainly in response to her husband's perpetual rantings against the left-wing politics of her family. ""It was true, I thought: liberals are irresponsible, self-indulgent people. I would no longer be like them, no longer be the daughter of those Jews who marched and sang."" Motive and explanation, however, are not part of the economy of these tales, which seem to be extended exercises in portraiture--precise, restrained, and ultimately rather precious (""His appendix burst slowly, almost gracefully....He had felt it: the rush of liquids, then the onslaught of life, which is pain""). There is a real skill present in the interweaving of one piece with another, all of them interrelated as evidently and problematically as the members of Ruth's family, although the narrative that emerges--revolving around incest, genocide, madness, and homosexuality--is somehow dragged down by the heaviness of the prose and the intricacy of the descriptions. An overly ambitious start from a talented beginner.