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Families and the way they endure are the subjects of two vastly different new books. Both offer proof of human triumph, the ability to hold on to a relationship. Or perhaps they offer proof of human failure, of the inability to move on. It depends on how you look at it.

GIVING AWAY SIMONE, by Jan L. Waldron; Times Books; 236 pages. $22.

In her family, Jan Waldron represents the fifth generation of women who have given up a child. She has come to see adoption, the severing of a tie between mother and child, as the most unnatural act imaginable. In her memoir, "Giving Away Simone," Waldron writes about the patterns in her family.

She tells the story of her mother, put up for adoption at the age of 16 months and pregnant and married at the age of 16 years. She writes of herself, abandoned by her mother at the age of 11, and pregnant and unmarried at the age of 16. And she tells the story of her daughter, Simone, who Waldron allowed to be adopted at the age of 3 weeks, only to find her again and begin visiting when Simone was 11.

Waldron also writes about her two grandmothers - her own mother's birth mother and adoptive mother. She also writes about the family who adopted Simone. All in all, this is a book about family ties.

In "Giving Away Simone," Waldron questions the way our society condones, even encourages unmarried teenagers to relinquish their babies. Still, after years of soul-searching, Waldron can't say she did the wrong thing by allowing her own daughter to be adopted. Waldron was young when she got pregnant. She was unemployed, with no high school diploma, abandoned by both her parents, living with an elderly grandmother. Eventually, Waldron extricated herself from a series of dead-end jobs and dead-end relationships with violent men, and went to college. Would she have ever found her way if she'd had Simone with her?

There are no answers in this book, and no easy endings. Other birth mothers have written about their pain, but none have questioned our cultural norms as deeply as Waldron does.

Waldron has spent years trying to forge a relationship with the little girl she gave away. More importantly, Simone has spent years trying to forge a relationship with her. Through a series of letters between Waldron and Simone, the reader comes to realize this particular child felt abandoned, even though she was adopted at 3weeks and even though her adoptive parents were loving and reliable people.

The encouraging part of this book is that Simone is 25 now and (to the readers' knowledge) has not had an unplanned pregnancy. Perhaps the generational cycle of unwanted pregnancies will end with her. Another bright part of the book is Waldron's writing. She is good at description.

Here's how she portrays the plight of a pregnant teenager: "I felt like a child newly awakened from a nap - disoriented and passive, walking from one day to the next in an agitated trance, waiting to be fully alert, looking for a lap."

Jan Waldron does not spare much pity for her own mother, whose feelings of rejection and depression led her to abandon her children when Waldron was 11. If she doesn't pity her own mother, neither does Simone pity her.

The reader, however, sympathizes with all the people in this book. And though the Si-mone/-Waldron angst becomes quite tiresome, the fact that their relationship is fraught with difficulties somehow seems more realistic than so many of the stories we read today, in which the birth parents and the natural parents and the adult adoptee all live happily ever after and get together for Christmas dinner.

This book may well spark a national dialogue about adoption. If it doesn't, it should.

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED? Real-Life Cases from The Ladies' Home Journal; by the editors of Ladies' Home Journal and Margery D. Rosen; Workman Publishing; 340 pages. In paperback, $9.95.

"Can This Marriage Be Saved?" The answer is always "yes."

According to the editors, "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" is the most widely read magazine column in history. It has been published in The Ladies' Home Journal since 1954. In fact, this collection includes the first column ever published - just to prove the troubles men and women have with communication and power struggles have changed very little over the years.

What is reassuring about this book is that just about any problem can be solved if two people want to solve it. The most difficult case the counselors report on, actually, is a case in which the husband was bored with family life and simply didn't want to be married. But the fact that he came for counseling and was willing to entertain the thought that he might eventually grow lonely without his wife and children, meant there was reason for hope.

There is so much reason for hope. "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" bears witness to the triumph of marriages troubled by every problem imaginable: The husband is a compulsive spender. The wife is a compulsive spender. The husband calls sex hotline numbers. The wife has a boyfriend. The kids are driving him crazy. The stepkids are driving her crazy. He yells and nags her. She yells and nags him.

It can all be worked out.