Eleven elegant stories proving (among other things) that American families are more varied--and more brightly fertile and warmly eccentric--than most liberal or conservative definitions dream of; winner of Iowa's annual John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Although the collection--the author's debut--is divided into two parts, ``In the Family'' and ``On the Land,'' at the heart of every story is a nest of affectionate relationships that simultaneously nourish and strangle. The first few pieces deal with traditional Jewish-American families. In ``Street Signs,'' two suburban households of the 50's, one assimilated, the other Orthodox, fall out over ceremonial matters, as their children- -especially a daughter, the narrator--remember vividly years later. In ``Tropical Aunts,'' two liberated and secular Florida-bound members of an extended family give a young girl comfort and a sense of freedom in every circumstance except a family death, when their beliefs seem merely odd. In ``Goldring Among the Cicadas'' and ``Her Michelangelo,'' a large, messy, likable nuclear family expresses love through the plentiful medium of money. In later stories, southern characters of no particular ethnicity try to work out new forms of family life after infidelity, separation, divorce, widowhood, and serial monogamy render the old forms irretrievable; many of these stories, especially the title one, have a sly, homey sophistication reminiscent of Bobbie Ann Mason. In ``Stony Limits,'' a girl in a wheelchair makes a haven of her handicapped school class; and in ``The Problem With Yosi,'' which reads like a deliberate and touching tribute to Isaac B. Singer, familial harmony on an Israeli kibbutz is good-naturedly restored by providing a misfit member with regular access to a Haifa whore. Good-natured is something all these stories are--as well as remarkably versatile, seamlessly constructed, and revealing of our common life.