From Herman, ex-Editorial Director of Ticknor & Fields: a first novel about love in midlife that aims for a passionate and philosophic height but lacks a hero to keep it there. Life seems a shower of blessings for David Smith: graduate of Yale, dweller on Park Avenue, importer of wines, father of four, and devoted lover of a beautiful, capable -- he'd have us believe perfect -- wife. But then, around age 40, a great emptiness descends upon him, and David -- while protesting his unchanged love for kids and wife -- deliberately sets foot onto the path of adultery. ""It seemed,"" he confides, ""that without the love of women I would die,"" and in the opening parts of the novel he brings passion into the life of beautiful, monied, and unhappily married Anne Stokowski, who (""Oh, David, sometimes I feel I can't stand it any longer! Why don't we run away together someplace?""), however, proves only a warm-up for the main event, which is David's high and doomed affair with the gloriously beautiful Hâ€šlâ‰¤ne, the half-American and half-French countess of Compiâ‰¤re. Hâ€šleâ‰¤ne has deep secrets in her own past, and a rich complexity of sorrows, that make her far more dependent upon the less-than-perceptive David than he knows, and his refusal to give up his marriage for her -- while insisting she see no one else -- drives her to an impasse so narrow that death is her exit. The novel's most moving -- and most authentic -- sections are Hâ€šlâ‰¤ne's, making the reader all the sorrier to be left at end with the masterfully shallow David, who actually seems to believe himself deserving of our pity even after ruining others' lives (including his wife's) for reasons never once proven in the least convincing. ""I was much perplexed in spirit and sometimes feared for my grasp on things,"" he says, saying more than he knows. Ambitious, romantic -- and disappointingly meager.