Mazza's first novel (after two collections, Is it Sexual Harassment Yet?, Animal Acts): a clever, experimental fiction that's very good at capturing the everyday absurdity of cockeyed conversations between odd people trying on ideas or experiences for size, but that ends with a narcissistic whimper instead of a bang. Phelan, a sculptor, and Tara, a painter, live together in such intimacy that she tells us his story, which she seems to remember better than he does, while he tells us odd bits and pieces about her agoraphobic life. This bizarre symbiosis serves Mazza well, allowing her to use an episodic but pseudo-documentary style to record the rich inner life of Phelan. (By the end, though, it's not absolutely clear whether Tara is real or Phelan's imaginary creation--one hopes the latter, since Tara is so thinly imagined compared to Phelan.) Phelan's italicized voice-overs early on (``All I can do is try to distract her..buy time..as I can figure out what to do'') give direction to the reader, while Tara's memories of Phelan's life open up the story to the past. Phelan played chess as a child (and still does: it's a recurring metaphor throughout) and became, in his mind, ``actually the world champion,'' according to his peculiar records. Sexual instances are lyrical, occasionally even Lawrentian, and Phelan's story involves an adoption, a long account of temporary work on a ward (juxtaposed with memories of his grandpa), and a teaching stint in Brazil, at a school where ``the poetry department was canceled for a year because no one wrote any good poems.'' Wry and compelling, overall, but mannered, even tricky--more the work of a short-story writer in the process of becoming a novelist than of a novelist who has hit her stride.