A female grad student's coming-of-age tale, and a work so charming, wise, and self-assured it's hard to believe it's a first novel--by a Massachusetts author discovered at a Bennington writers' workshop. Josie Trask has been a student in English lit long enough to have married, given birth to a son, and mothered him for three years--all without yet having finished her dissertation. Perhaps it's her dissertation's subject that fails to motivate: a virtually unknown 19th-century woman poet from Josie's hometown of Chester, Mass., whose work might not be worth resurrecting. Then again, the irritating success of Josie's husband, Peter, might be the real problem. Having never experienced writer's block, Peter has sailed through his teaching gigs on the popular culture of the '60s, has been awarded a book contract for his own dissertation (From the Valley of the Dolls to the Ballad of the Green Berets), and is now planning to spend the summer in Berkeley drilling college students on the significance of '60s icons. Josie expects to accompany him until she's offered a summer job as researcher for glitzy, lowbrow British biographer Fiona Jones, who's doing a quick posthumous bio of Jackie Onassis. Unable to resist the $10,000, Josie takes the job and devotes herself to investigating JFK's love affairs and Jackie's terrible sorrows--only half-consciously suspecting that Peter may be doing his own philandering in Berkeley all the while. As the weeks pass, Jackie's triumphs and travails as a wife and mother begin eerily to resemble Josie's own--but happily, by the end of the summer, both feisty heroines manage to triumph in the face of adversity by winning the respect of their husbands, forging forward in their careers, and lavishing affection on their lucky kids. As first novels go, this one's a plum.