New Yorker Tillman (Cast in Doubt, 1992, etc.) returns to fiction after her recent book of essays (The Broad Picture, p. 939), vividly conveying a heat-maddened day and night in one woman's complex relationship with her East Village neighborhood, a junkie zone where everyone has an attitude and no one gets ahead. On her block, Elizabeth Hall is in the minority in more ways than one: She's white, well-educated, has a regular job, and she cares about her surroundings. While morons are cavorting down in the street during the wee hours, dumping trash cans and smashing windshields, she's up in her window watching and fantasizing about how she might kill them off. After her do-nothing landlord sends notice of a rent increase, Elizabeth responds to a neighbor's call to resist, successfully working the city bureaucracy until the landlord relents--a pyrrhic victory in light of the fact that there's still no lock on her building's front door to keep the junkies from shooting up (or even worse) in the hallways as they please. Meanwhile, as Elizabeth walks her street, she talks sympathetically with Jeanine the hooker and Gisela the crazy bag- lady, offering what consolation she can. But her sleepless nights, her dead-end job as a magazine proofreader, her relentlessly ironic boyfriend, and the shadow man who watches her from his window across the street as she finally takes action, firing eggs surreptitiously from her fire escape onto the heads of another band of troublemakers, add up to a life in which heroic action achieves the same result as treading water. Tillman's view of city life seen through the not-quite-jaded eyes of a determined survivor has its share of honest moments and rough humor, but too much familiar material and a steady stream of fair-to-weak jokes unmercifully dilute this fourth novel.