Pesetsky's fourth novel (Confessions of a Bad Girl, 1989, etc.)--purportedly the collected journals and archives of a 30-ish little-known poet dying slowly of a fatal illness--is a vervy, muscular hodgepodge that reads like a collaboration among Grace Paley, Nora Ephron, and Erica Jong: part ethnic stew, part sitcom, part frenetic affairs of the heart. Bernadette Amy Berne has been sick for years with a disease of the nervous system: ``The nerves sizzled and greedily danced to a heathen melody that I didn't control.'' She decides to catalogue her life--``I have recreated my life....Packed away all these meaningful scraps...the necessary journal entries.'' In a series of boxes or archives, given to us as snapshots, we learn that Bernadette reached her vocation of poet early--before she met her husband (``If ever I had a calling, he was it''); her first mentor, Mrs. Talmadge (``Sex is always going to be a woman's fate. Write poems about that''); as well as Cousin Helene, whom she chooses as her literary executor, and the Cousins, a group of people (who may or may not be her relatives) who meet on Long Island from time to time. The story is not so much a straightforward chronicle, however, as an orchestration of an ensemble of secondary characters (Bernadette: ``Whenever we moved, we acquired people'') around whom the stricken poet, who exasperates her husband by becoming celibate and her professor son by taking her poems seriously. ``To whom does the artist bequeath his life?'' Pesetsky's answer is this novel of ``papers...that will illuminate my life.'' The result is occasionally flimsy or fragmentary, but often the surreal non sequiturs and an idiosyncratic voice keep the reader off-balance but entertained. Pesetsky comments brightly on the need to take art and life seriously in a world that sometimes seems to have little time for either.