Drama scholar Valency here resurrects Ashby (a Russian-born painter of abstractions killed off in Ashby, 1984) for a frothy concoction involving, again, Chaucer scholar and narrator Joseph Jackson. Julie, an ambitious ingÃ‰nue fresh out of a Botticelli painting, shows up in Jackson's Chaucer seminar so that she might meet Ashby, Jackson's friend, and do a New Yorker profile of him. Jackson, smitten with her, has a number of sophomoric and fruitless conversations about going to bed; instead, Ashby becomes her lover. The New Yorker profile falls through, but all three become comrades, even though Ashby must endure Jackson's jealousy. Meanwhile, they witness Ashby's reputation getting trashed because the D.A.L. (Daughters of American Liberty) rejects his abstract painting of ""Washington Crossing the Delaware,"" intended for the White House; Julie finishes her dissertation; the narrator continues to ache for her: and Alex, the son of Lucia (Ashby's great unrequited love from the first novel), shows up at Ashby's door, claiming to be his son. Until this point, the book is good fun, shot through with easy satire, but after Alex arrives it peters off into sometimes breezy, sometimes pedantic digressions--on phrenology, Zen, haiku, psychoanalysis, and the McCarthy witch-hunt, among other things--as everyone tries to understand Alex and get him into a good college instead of the Navy. To escape the Commie hunters, Ashby gets sent off to Japan, and Jackson follows him. While there, they learn that both Julie and Alex have been killed in a car wreck. Convenient. At the end, Jackson is left wanting ""so much to understand."" At times, a clever spoof of things fashionable or unfashionable, but finally so lightweight there's almost nothing there.