Webster's rambling genealogical rundown has some humble charm, but his debut reads more like notes for a first draft than an actual novel. Hassalia, an African-American girl nicknamed ``Little Man'' by her family when she begins sporting glasses, talks about the life of Ma Rhetta, her grandmother, and other family members both chime in and are described in lengthy detail. About half this chatter is entertaining, but the many voices often blend together. Much of the dialogue is written in dialect (``I know you don't wanna be thinkin' 'bout no mens yet,'' Ma Rhetta warns Hassalia), and the relatives share a lot of verbal tics. The men have a habit of leaving; Ma Rhetta has borne four children by four different partners, and Hassalia notes, ``The daddies weren't there.'' Not all of these characters are promiscuous, however. One of Ma Rhetta's sons and his wife take six years to have a child, and then ``the two of 'em took so long to name him that 'til he was full grown hardly anybody ever used his real name.'' Each person has a story, usually hinging on a seminal moment. For example, Hassalia's Aunt Fanny took up with a white soldier, only to be abandoned on a train station bench after he had invited her to run away; then she went crazy. There are tangled tales of incest and love affairs that lead to violence. Hassalia is shocked to discover, especially from her mother, that Ma Rhetta was not always a nice person. The plot is difficult to follow and ultimately seems beside the point. The characters remain characters rather than people, and their stories remain stories rather than lives. Despite the geographic and emotional hyper-closeness of this clan, they sound distanced when discussing themselves and one another. A family reunion at which pleasure is scarce.