Poet Hoffman's fictional debut: a doomed romance, set in the New York art and literary worlds, whose players are inspired and silly, courageous and maudlin by turns. Joy is a poet who can count among her blessings a growing professional reputation, a prestigious teaching job, a supportive philosophy-professor husband, a beautiful New York apartment and a perfect set of children. Yet she has never known happiness--not, that is, until the failed seduction of her husband's boss propels her into a vanity-soothing affair with famous artist Carl Vaggio. Sex with Vaggio, a self-satisfied eccentric with a host of female admirers and several missing front teeth, provides the necessary sadomasochistic buzz to make Joy come alive; and compared to the affair, the rest of her life--the gratifying career, the beautiful children, the marriage to what she suspects is her ``womanly'' husband--doesn't count for much. A sexually abusive grandfather, ambitious and unhappy mother, and passive father are trotted out as reasons why Joy becomes obsessed with such an utterly self-centered lover, but her own lust for drama plays a major role as well. As Joy's parents divorce, her best friend (another of Carl's lovers) dies of cancer, and her mother begins to lose her mind, Joy retreats to London to write a book about them all--then claims that her career is ruined when one player in the roman Ö clef threatens to sue on publication. Joy consoles herself by abandoning her teaching, divorcing her husband, and ignoring her children for the sake of Vaggio, who absent-mindedly continues to reject her--until she wakes up at last to find herself middle-aged but finally empty of passion for the artist (now a tiny old man) who took everything and gave her nothing. A sad first novel whose heroine swings trapeze-like between braggadocio and despair--steeped in sharp, sexy, ethereal, sometimes even funny prose.