A German painter of great critical and commercial renown is given a year's use of a tower in southwest France. From its vantage he plans to paint four large paintings of the seasons; these he will give to the tower's owner, a rich German collector, while he himself reaps the sketchwork of a communion-with-nature experience that he hopes will dispel the cynicism he feels about art, his included. But once in the tower, the painter is blocked, finds himself translating Dante instead of sketching and subject to afternoons of drinking too much in the local cafes. In one of these he is witness to a domestic disagreement of a likewise-German-speaking couple. The man stalks off (in fact, leaves town altogether); the woman befriends the painter; they sleep together--and she also disappears, stealing the painter's car. Then the man's picture shows up in the newspapers as a suspect in the murder of a Toulouse policeman. These two shadowy figures will play in and out of the painter's consciousness thereafter- -leading him to the depths and, finally, possible salvation. KrÅger's hardly subtle Dante-esque allegory, however (``The deeper I penetrated the graphic execution of Paradise, the more invisible my opponent became''), is supported more by cinder-block-like opinions about art-world sociology than by any plot per se: ``Why, precisely, should I deliver a program so that, from the misery they had brought on themselves in the eighties with their repulsive dazzling pretentiousness, they might find a path whose appellation would be somewhat more enduring than the concepts they had given themselves in recent years of economically successful indolence?'' (An unfortunate translation of an unfortunate sentence.) In only one scene--the painter being visited by a sausage-maker collector from Germany--does KrÅger (The End of the Novel, 1992) write a bit of a novel here. Elsewhere, it's all leaden meditation, jeremiad, and shadow-play.