Twenty-four grimly earnest essays about gay affections, most of which fail to substantiate the subtitle's premise that some larger issue is at stake. Anthologist Preston (Hometowns: Gay Men Write About Where They Belong, 1991, etc.), who died last year of AIDS, writes in his introduction that ``gay men can see the nuances of `family' with the clarity of outsiders.'' This vague editorial conceit is not, unfortunately, borne out by most of the work here. Perhaps a quarter of the contributors have something substantial to say about what constitutes ``family'': Adam Levine writes about how he inadvertently became the caretaker of a garden in a Philadelphia vacant lot and earned his neighbors' trust and affection; Jesse G. Monteagudo discusses his conversion to Judaism from the homophobic Catholicism of his Cuban childhood; the anonymous Michael L. talks about his recovery from alcoholism via ``Gay AA.'' These authors and a few others present the discovery of new familial bonds, not as the goal of their respective endeavors, but as an unexpected gift, and their essays consequently have a narrative drive and resonance that is wanting elsewhere. Michael Bronski reflects unpersuasively on a Boston gay bar's '70s clientele as family; Andrew Holleran meditates in his usual hangdog tone about what AIDS does to friendships. Some reminiscences are simply inert: Essays by Michael Rowe, Eric Latzky, Alan Bell, and Preston himself, for instance, serve mostly as testimony to the authors' capacity for companionship--nice for them, but hardly gripping reading. Steven Saylor's ``A Marriage Manual'' stands out as virtually the only selection to betray a sense of humor. Although it showcases a handful of very good writers, the inexorably heartfelt collection leaves one with the sense of being trapped in a Sunday magazine supplement.