A few portentous weeks at an oh-so-intimate writers' workshop whose epigones circle around a never-been writer/editor/teacher to distressingly little effect. Sloan Vance loves being lionized by his students, but his own slender novels, published as favors to his sister Claire--a literary agent who controls the Hopkins Foundation endowed by their late mother--don't make much of a case for him as a lion. His wife, Jean, driven to desperation by the departure of her friend Otto Bider, is especially unimpressed. So, as it turns out, are the current gaggle of students: sneering southern blossom MacDowell Trew, matter-of-fact accountant Donna Troy, and coltish young alcoholic Margie Webster, whose relationship with Jean soon settles into an uneasy intimacy that fairly seethes with the promise of heavy-breathing developments. But Brookhouse (Wintermute, 1978, etc.), who begins by denying his puppets any interaction except with Vance or Jean, eventually loses interest in all of them except Margie and Jean--unless you count Otto, whom Jean periodically addresses as if writing a letter. Plot twists, horrid revelations, and realignments of the cast are duly parceled out--though Brookhouse is far too well-bred to allow anything as crass as an unmediated dramatic event to sully his ornate pages--but the real fun here, as far as it goes, is watching Jean slither into and out of an epistolary mode (when is she talking to Otto, or writing to him, and where is Otto, anyway?) as her identity shimmers and drifts into Margie's, and Margie begins to display her own dark talent for reinventing herself. A slow-motion rondelet whose personal chat is as faithfully boring and exasperating, and whose incidents are served up as parsimoniously, as at a real writers' conference.