After her mediocre second novel (The Time of Her Life, 1984), Dew resurrects the Howells family from her stunning debut, Dale Loves Sophie to Death (1981), and proves, once again, that common sense and elegant prose can transform ordinary lives into compelling fiction. Since last heard from, the Howells (``the world's last happy family'') have endured their share of tragedy. The death of son Toby in a car accident remains ``unresolved'' for the rest of the family six years later, as oldest son David prepares to leave for Harvard. Martin and Dinah, now in their 40s, spend this summer sorting out their emotional lives as parents--and as people of impeccable honor, manners, and good taste. Which, in Dew's view, doesn't mean they're heavily repressed. These are well-meaning, liberalish parents who enjoy life in their college town (a thinly disguised Williamstown, Mass.), where Martin teaches and Dinah maintains ``the physical equilibrium of their domestic arrangements.'' Dinah's unconditional and overwhelming love for her children doesn't prevent her from mothering those who stray onto her always open hearth. This summer, Netta Breckenridge, a young, hyperintense philosopher, wanders into view, along with her sad little daughter. While Dinah frets over Martin's fascination with the brilliant instructor, she fails to realize the obvious--her little boy David is now a young man with intellectual and sexual appetites of his own. As Dinah fears the various threats to her admittedly arbitrary domestic order, Martin tries to make peace with the boy who inadvertently killed his son. Throughout here, Dinah rewrites a letter solicited by Harvard's Dean of Students about her son. It's a rather trite way of marking her progress through this summer of ``letting go''--and unworthy of the more profound insight into parenthood that distinguishes this emotionally precise novel. Despite some glaring loose ends--will we hear from the Howells again?--this is a defiantly small fiction and, in its way, an extraordinary tale of how self-identity emerges from the bonds of family.