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Everything about Zeidner's contemporary urban romance is delightfully downscale--the failed-yuppie lovers, the decaying city where they live, their diminishing job prospects--everything, that is, except the writing itself. The author of Customs and Alexandra Freed here zips along with snappy dialogue, deft characterization, and a fresh look into that modern phenomenon, the ""relationship."" Thirtysomething Malcolm DeWitt and Nora Worth live together in his West Philadelphia townhouse, their union as fragile as their finances. Since both work free-lance--he's an interior designer, and she a food stylist--their incomes seldom keep up with their spending habits. Being broke never stops Malcolm from picking up another antique or a fancy bottle of wine. With mounting debts and ten years of unfiled tax returns, Malcolm loses his one big client when the latter is suddenly indicted, leaving Malcolm to rely once again on the generosity of the slightly more successful Nora, herself a former artist. Nora sees her dilemma clearly: she's ready to leave grumpy Malcolm, even though she loves him, since he's incapable of commitment. On the other hand, in Nora's view, ""they didn't have a single problem that $25,000 or $30,000--make it $35,000, accounting for inflation--couldn't cure."" Thanks to a $30,000 bank error, Nora's wish almost comes tree; and flush with her dubious fortune, she decides to renew an affair with her old beau, David Martella, a rather obnoxious film-critic/professor/actor. While Nora dallies with hyperactive David, semi-comatose Malcolm beds the beautiful IRS worker assigned to his case. Both Nora and Malcolm eventually come to their senses in matters of the heart and the pocketbook--but they do so after lots of indecision, and plenty of advice from their mostly odd friends and family. Much of the pleasant humor here is at the expense of Philadelphia itself, and, in general, Zeidner falters only when she overreaches, stretching for unusual metaphors or straining for offbeat insight.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1989
Publisher: North Point