Similar in theme to his most recent novel, Dead Languages ( LJ 4/1/89), these linked stories sensitively probe the psychic wounds inflicted by families. They paint a composite portrait of Walt Jaffe, an intelligent, obsessive young man struggling to overcome the effects of his parents' emotional repressiveness and his mother's early death. Stories such as ``The Gun in the Grass at Your Feet'' and ``The Sheer Joy of Amoral Creation'' explore the painful roots of his difficulties. Others, like ``Heart of a Dybbuk''--a story purportedly written by Walt--portray an adult attempting to break through from detachment to emotional engagement. While most are effective individually, the stories have a much greater cumulative impact. In the end, A Handbook for Drowning may be best appreciated as a kind of episodic novel. For most collections.-- Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.