The ending is a bit too explicit, too neat. And Boris' functional prose sometimes strains for the wrong effects. Otherwise, however, this is a tough, funny, and touchingly well-observed excursion into Philip Roth country--yet with an almost-Jane-Austen feel for odd, shapely turns and fine-tuned moments. (Ignore the publisher's ludicrously sensationalized misrepresentation of ""this novel of passion and revenge."") Woodridge, 1946, is a resort town at the foot of the Catskills: some Jewish residents cater directly to the vacation trade, like Phil and Arlene Ehrlich, owners of the busy ""Our Place"" luncheonette/ice-cream parlor; others just raise eggs--""country Marxists"" and strays like young Andy Foreman, a onetime rebel Casanova who's been gentled by WW II service that included a look at the Nazi death-camps. And since Phil and Arlene are one of the world's lousiest long-married couples--he drinks and whores, she nags and snipes--it isn't long before fed-up Arlene and restless Andy team up and run off. . . to a seedy Manhattan hotel where Arlene gets a colitis attack and desperately calls Phil (!) to bring her medicine. Phil does arrive, he wants Arlene back--badly. But, in a . neat reversal of romantic-triangle clichÃ‰s, Phil doesn't attack; he bargains, suggesting that Andy and Arlene come back to Woodridge, live openly in sin and run the luncheonette while Phil takes over Andy's little chicken farm: ""I figure in a month or two it'll be all over--here or in Kalamazoo--so why do I have to go into no man's land to bring you back?"" Will things work out as Phil hopes? Not quite. And when Andy and Arlene skip town again (this time with all the Ehrlich savings plus some money Arlene has gotten by fraud), Phil attempts suicide, is saved (in a scene you won't soon forget), and only then can he announce--rather too loudly--that he has gotten over his need for impossible Arlene. . . . Boris' unromanticized, luncheonette-sized handling of the eternal triangle is mostly just fine. (Obsessive Arlene measures Andy's love by the speed with which he rushes to mop up a little customer's vomit.) But even better are some of the sidelights along the way: young soda-jerk Douglas' painful/funny relationship with his flinty father; Douglas' memories of meaningless Bar Mitzvah lessons with Andy's non-English-speaking grandpa; a visit from Arlene and Phil's obnoxious son; comic lectures from the luncheonette's drunk, black, ex-professor cook. All in all, an imperfect, slight, but rich and special novel--characters in a very real place-and-time served up with unsentimental affection and tender shrewdness.