Life in the Great Depression had a noble simplicity, and nobody bothered very much about anything."" That's the low-key, nostalgic, often-engaging tone of this first novel by drama scholar Valency--which, while lacking the shapeliness and depth of full-fledged fiction, offers pleasant, disjointed, memoir-like details in evoking the N.Y./1930s bohemian life. The narrator is Joseph Jackson, a young erstwhile academic, hanging out around Union Square. But the primary focus is Alexander Ashby--a Russian-born painter of abstractions and nudes who lives in Jackson's brownstone, along with a slew of colorful intellectual characters. . . and artist's model Lucia. Ashby suffers with an unconsummated desire for Lucia; he's also caught up in simultaneous affairs with a fabulously rich patroness and the patroness' college-aged daughter. But Ashby's primary cross-to-bear is fighting off the fame and success that seem to be coming all too readily to him. True, in the novel's second half, set in Europe before the Spanish Civil War, the breeziness flags somewhat--as Valency's weakness for pedantic, scene-setting digressions becomes more intrusive. (""For many, the Loyalist cause had extraordinary glamour; but the intervention of the Soviet Union produced incidents which the Loyalist adherents found embarrassing and even disillusioning."") Still, if occasionally lecture-like and never deeply involving, this portrait of 1930s bohemianism is smoothly credible most of the way through--brightened by light, dry, comic dialogues and a generally fizzy sense of period insouciance.