Ruth Wheeler, a wry, resourceful fifty, runs a boarding house in Vancouver and fills her life acting as ""watchdog, cook, mind reader, cipher, whatever"" to the lodgers. They include several draft-dodgers, a shoe salesman with orderly habits and ""three quarters of his wits,"" a female graduate student who drinks too much and fancies women, a jovially sarcastic black accountant who talks too much and fancies men, a vibrant radical girl who sleeps with nearly all of them, and Ruth's own wonderful aging mother-in-law. Something disastrous happens to each of them (as Ruth says, ""We're never spared anything, are we?"") and to their house, which is condemned and bought by the city. Members of the household retreat to a Gulf island where they run a restaurant and try to take care of each other. The book is about weary survival and ""family"" ties at a time when all groupings are makeshift; it is simply written, much less sentimental than its title would indicate, and genuinely touching.