Valenzuela (The Lizard's Tail, 1983; Open Door, 1988) posits two Argentinian novelists here, Agustin and Roberta, both living in New York for a spell. Their relationship is more emptying than fulfilling. Roberta is trying ``to write with her body,'' live out her fiction in various dalliances or by graceless slumming (the two spend a few nights in a shelter for the homeless), while Agustin has, at the book's beginning, killed a woman he barely knows- -earning him instant guilt-racked underground-man status. In what partially is the result of Valenzuela's baroquely overwrought style and partially the translation's clumsiness, this all comes across as unintentionally comic-metafictional shadows dancing with ooh-this-is-naughty peeps at sadomasochism parlors and avant-garde Lower East Side theater: a portrait of New York-as- inferno that a certain kind of intellectually vain foreign writer leaps for like a dog to a bone. And a leaden coat of literary intention, even in dialogue, smothers what little air is left: ``Agustin and I embarked on a rough adventure, a probing investigation, stirring up lots of shit, exposing all the ghosts that we could, entering forbidden areas, searching for the unnameable. I believe we needed an answer and there is no answer, questions always leading to other questions.'' Awfully smug, when it isn't being just plain awful.