Brooklyn's Williamsburg, early in the century, is the birthplace of David Gordin--son of printer Joel, but, more importantly in terms of destiny, son of fiery Lisa. An archetypal Jewish matriarch, Lisa expects of David only the best (although knowing ""There is always a price to pay""). And this means, in David's case, a talent for the piano which is stretched and racked and extended into a budding concert career: there are lessons, then Paris, then more lessons. But hearing the young Horowitz play Carnegie Hall one night changes everything--as David realizes that ""we accumulate all kinds of illusions about ourselves that have nothing to do with what we're really like. Then comes the awful moment when we have to shake them off."" And, his concert career ended, David looks for consolation in an affair with anthropologist Judith--though emotional paralysis, a fear of going all the way through with something, breaks this off: David heads inexorably toward a bad nervous collapse (as well as rift with disappointed mother Lisa). Unfortunately, however, David's timidity is too undramatic a central motif to maintain interest here: Machlin (The Enjoyment of Music) is not nearly novelist enough to keep the book from turning into one long Oedipal kvetch. And while the New-York-Jewish atmospheres (proletarian, intellectual) are nicely tiled in, the one-note characterization makes this an only intermittently involving case-history of Growing-Up-With-A-Jewish-Mother.