A roman Ö clef distinguished, so to speak, by feet of the samenot to mention other bodily parts lubriciously (if not lovingly) described. It's the first-person confession of a Mexican novelist who in all essentials resembles and is in no way distinguished from Carlos Fuentes (The Orange Tree, 1994, etc.). On New Year's Eve, 1968, then in his 40s, the novelist meets and falls helplessly in love with Diana Soren, a mercurial American film actress who began her career as an untrained ingÇnue playing Joan of Arc and followed that performance with one in a famous French New Wave melodramain other words, an unmistakable simulacrum of the late Jean Seberg. She takes Protagonist/Fuentes (hereafter, P/F) to her bed; impatiently endures his unwillingness to remain constantly at her beck and call (P/F is a dedicated novelist, after all); answers his guilt about not acting as the literary voice of his country with her own reservations about having portrayed a saint; and abandons him for higher causes and other lovers, including, most notably, the unnamed "leader of the Black Panthers." Other less fortunate notables, who are evoked or appear either as themselves or in thinly fictionalized disguise, include Seberg's husband, French novelist Romain Gary (here named Ivan Gravet); actors Lee J. Cobb and Clint Eastwood; filmmaker Luis Bunuel; novelists James Baldwin and William Styron; and even Tina Turner. Dead or alive, all should sue. The novel is a maudlin, exploitative exercise in self- absorption, redeemed only by a few edgy pages in which P/F frets more or less candidly about "the separation between the vital content of things and their literary expression in my work." Even so, P/F underestimates. Nowhere in Fuentes's otherwise respectable oeuvre is there evidence of such slackness, shapelessness, andlet's face itshamelessness. A peculiarly ungallant and unnecessary book. And unless it's simply a makeweight being used to fulfill a contractual obligation, it's hard to understand why Fuentes allowed it to be published.