An elegantly written debut offers an erudite analysis of eating disorders in a less-than-persuasive fictional structure. With a self-absorbed heroine, and a hero only slightly more sympathetic to the reader, the love story here, intended to explicate the psycho-medical theme, never catches fire. The real heart of the novel is essentially a long and often intellectually provocative essay on the varieties of hunger--for love, fame, acceptance, and the manner in which young women, especially, respond to them. Joseph and Ruth first meet in college; after graduating, they move into an apartment in New York. Joseph teaches English to Russian immigrants; Ruth, whose father pays her rent and Visa bills, wants to be an artist. She's also obsessed with her weight and has been hospitalized for anorexia. As the story opens, Joseph is beginning to suspect that Ruth is suffering a recurrence: She exercises compulsively, eats very little, and behaves erratically in restaurants. Ernest Flek, a psychologist and a friend of Ruth's divorced mother, gives the concerned Joseph a list of books to read. The list is not only eclectic--ranging from basic texts on anorexia to Kenneth Clark's study The Nude--but suggests the wider implications of eating disorders. As Joseph becomes more and more involved--he spends all of his free time researching the subject--Flek suggests that he must learn to deal with his own hungers and demons before he can help Ruth. Joseph resists, until Ruth leaves for France. As he struggles with his fears, migraines, and guilt, he eventually comes to understand that he was not responsible for his teenage sister's suicide, and that his obsessive need to monitor Ruth's illness has more to do with his own needs than hers. Ruth returns ill, but the two are ready to fight their problems together. More research than romance, which is disappointing, because Rosen can write. It's the ideas, though, not the characters, that have life here.