In this highly quotable, subtly arranged collage on families, Jane Howard again combines a backporch informality with strong journalistic authority and again, as in Please Touch (1970) and A Different Woman (1973), comes up with dependable answers. ""The simple prospect of sitting down at a table set for ten, with hunks of paper toweling for napkins, can lure me to travel long, soggy distances."" Her crisscross-country trek turns up gregarious Jewish and Greek and Southern clans; single parents, extended families, and precarious communal households. ""All this, of course, is a matter of style as well as of substance. Ashrams, like people, attract or repel me by their syntax."" She turns away from the Conference jargon of ""support systems,"" ""genderdimorphic"" favorite toys, and ""Shared Meals As A Core Experience"" and offers instead downhome anecdotes, examples of connectedness, cherished rituals, old feuds, and jubilant appreciations which are easy to reciprocate. References range from Aristotle to Richard Sennett, the statistics are tucked in unobtrusively (""Each year we scratch out a fifth of the entries in our address books""), and the pacing and images are exceptional. Of a Fifth Avenue tribe: ""They never leave the oarlocks in the gunwales."" There are the married anthropologists, she with no parents, he with eleven; idiomatic felicities savored (""He'll visit Maxine's leg off,"" ""He's been eating pork since he was qualified to eat""); and Harold Brodkey quoted for emphasis: ""Some people think that the amateurishness of family life is the most widely-distributed human beauty."" Plus, in likable doses, Howard's peripatetic insights and observations, her quest for personal illumination and private significance. ""Americans, as Will Rogers said, will join anything but their families."" But, since everyone has one and Howard has a handle on it, expect a hearty welcome.