You'll feel more like throttling Johanna than saving her if you get very far into this first novel--which, after a passably breezy start, becomes a thoroughly implausible and tediously unpleasant psycho-case-history. Narrator-heroine Johanna Morgan, 33, is a N.Y.-trendy magazine-writer who supposedly does New Yorker pro-files (highly unlikely, considering her cheesy prose); but now she's decided to write her first novel--a fictional treatment of one of her former interview subjects: cult-leader/mass-murderer Avrum Maheely, a Manson type who (like his female followers) is now in prison. So Johanna goes to San Francisco to interview three of Avrum's bedmate/worshippers (one shrew, one sexy mental defective, one Patty Hearst type), though this annoys David, her lover-fiancÃ‰. She writes the book--execrable chapters of which are interpolated here (""the pungent odor of their sexual emissions tortured her brain as she watched them with a hatred so vicious that were it given life it would have ripped them apart""). And all the while she's popping Valium and Quaaludes, fighting with David, one night even getting near-raped (largely her own fault) while prowling the streets. What's wrong? Is it the charismatic, demonic power of Avrum? Or is Avrum merely the trigger for some crisis related to orphan Johanna's repressed past? (She has an older half-sister whom she obsessively avoids.) Eventually, all is revealed--after one session with an astonishingly bad shrink and one phone call from sister Sephra (""I listen, mesmerized, as she places together the pieces that have been floating around in my brain, tormenting me all my life')--and there's a final mishmash of sado-masochistic hallucination (anal rape, etc.) and drug-overdose. A sorry stew of amateur psychology and arch narration--with, however, a few hints along the way that Pascal (author of three YA novels) might do somewhat better with much lighter material.