Men too can shine in that pre-lib realm of ""women's biographies""; Walter Sorell gulps and rhapsodizes his way through the lives of Alma Mahler-Werfel, Gertrude Stein, and Lou Andreas-Salome with the self-indulgent fervor of a superannuated groupie. These are not exactly obscure lives, and Sorell is not exactly given to interpretative novelty. We follow Alma from Gustav to Walter (Gropius) to Franz, with many an extracurricular grace note along the way--Gustav Klimt, Hans Pfitzner, Oskar Kokoschka--and strong emphasis on thwarted self-fulfillment and inner conflicts and through it all the Ewigweibliche. Gertrude Stein mercifully resists this sort of treatment and Sorell improves a bit in trying to tackle an art which grapples with ""the need for shock and incoherence."" But excess sets in again with the divine Lou, for whom every stop is pulled out: ""There must have been something fatal in her physical and intellectual charms""; ""And yet she was the emancipated woman par excellance and a femme fatale rolled into one""; not to mention ""an elemental power, a storm sweeping along a mystically predetermined path."" Throughout the book we keep encountering such profundities as ""Death always seemed to move Gertrude"" or ""Before anything else and above all, [Alma] was a woman.