Busch (Rounds, The Mutual Friend) goes all out for emotionalism this time, trying to combine the blowsy urban style of Bellow with the bone-gnawing obsessiveness of Roth--not the best of mixes. Zimmer, a 40-year-old New York book editor, has separated from non-Jewish wife Lillian and small son Sam (to the boy's great hurt and confusion). In the shaky interim before returning to them (at the book's sentimentally unconvincing end), Zimmer re-encounters Rhona Glinsky, a sharptongued Jewish earth mother with whom he long ago had a sexual awakening. Rhona is hard as nails but basically very vulnerable, the kind of character who always calls Zimmer ""Zimmer""; in the old days she led him into the hysterical persecution of a blind Rumanian--supposedly a war criminal with the Iron Guard. . . but actually revealed to be another Jewish writer. So the flashbacks to this endlessly attenuated misadventure serve as a springboard for Busch's meditation--half-comic, half-serious--on the topic of Jewish identity and consciousness. Unfortunately, however, the result is a busy stew of uncoordinated parts: swirling time-frames; Zimmer's interior feeling monologues; the brassy but curiously lifeless characterization of Rhona. And, as in previous novels, Busch's prose often lapses into self-indulgent excess: ""And here, around us, the city was having its Saturday, and over us the sky was satisfactory for walking beneath, if you could hold one another's hand, or be in love, or not be forced away, or have, that moment, at least something in your life that you required."" An ambitious grapple with the N.Y./Jewish ethos, then--but hectic, derivative, and unsatisfyingly disjointed.