In this latest from Canadian writer Helwig (The Bishop, 1986; The Only Son, 1984; etc.), scenes from the past are interwoven with the present to create a moving portrait of a family haunted by a need to hold things together. When two middle-aged brothers, Arnold and Donald--wounded by their father's long-ago decision to leave their clever but neurotic mother for another woman--learn that their father has disappeared and may be dead, they respond in characteristically different ways. Arnold--the elder, a minor poet and civil servant who has distanced himself from pain by becoming an ""ironist""--feels obligated to go and help his father's second wife, Sandra. Donald, whose whole life has ""been a battle to hold things together,"" refuses to go. A slum landlord who does tattooing on the side, Donald is infatuated with one of his tenants, keeps secrets from his wife, but needs her stability. As the two men face their father's probable death, they remember their childhood--as well as Arnold's dead wife, the unhappy Marie--and begin to understand angry Juliet, an artist and Arnold's daughter. There are no big surprises here, only quiet epiphanies as these two brothers finally understand themselves, their past and its legacies. At times too episodic as the story moves back and forth, but Helwig's fully realized characters more than compensate.