Along with two other campus girlfriends at Swarthmore, Claire Danziger is a ""death-girl,"" completely and deliciously obsessed with suicidal women poets: Plath, Sexton, plus a (fictional) poet named Lucy Asher. And though Claire brings special credentials to her ""death-girl"" status--she's the surviving older sibling of a brother who died of leukemia--her necro-phantasy depends largely on post-adolescent romanticism, rebellion, and sexual unsureness (Claire's a cold fish with boyfriend Julian). Then, one day, Claire leaves school and makes her way to the doorstep of Lucy Asher's parents on Long Island, Helen and Ray; she asks to be let in, to work as an au pair girl. The Ashers (the book's only real-feeling characters), generally numbed by their famous but distant daughter's death, let Claire in. And, soon enough, she's ensconced in Lucy's old room--with far less spiritually exalting results in herself than she expected, but with a general lightening of the Ashers' moods: they have another warm body in the house. Unfortunately, the underlying idea of the ""deathgirl"" phenomenon (very reminiscent of the obsession in Wetherell's Souvenirs, 1981) is much brighter than its fictionalization here. First-novelist Wolitzer is vague and poky as she slowly moves her small story along. The dialogue is strictly dorm-room: ""She's like a living paradox or something. I mean, she's so stiff, and still she manages to be overpowering. She always knows exactly what she's doing; she seems so self-contained, but at the same time it's like she's spilling out all over the place. I can't explain it any better than that."" The perceptions are mundane (""You cannot replace children who have died. You can fill in for them a while, but you have to step back, gracefully""). And the crucial Claire/Lucy portraiture is muddy. An intriguing premise, then, but a blandly inept treatment.