A perhaps overly clever debut, rich in literary allusions, that just doesn't come to enough. Young writer Pearl Christomo, sent to a remote boarding school in Michigan, begins writing a novel that increasingly resembles her own life--which in turn resembles Hamlet's. She's a daughter, however, not a son; her mother has married a stepfather who wants her out of his way. Judith, Pearl's mother, leaves Anthony, her father, a history professor and intellectual, because she wants something richer, fuller in her life. But the quest never ends, not even when she marries Martin Hamlin, a wealthy, inspirational author of self-help books. Pearl, who was only a toddler when Judith abandoned her father, now feels betrayed as a teenager by her mother's desertion, but also angered by her seemingly insatiable, continuing need for even more to fill her life after marrying Martin. Lavishly furnishing the house that Pearl calls Elsinore, Judith next wants breast enlargement and another child. In Pearl's own novel, meanwhile, characters like future actress Theresa, aging writer Hugh Denmark, philandering lawyer Aaron, poet Winston--and wounded women like Theresa's alcoholic mother and Winston's suicidal co-worker Ruth--begin to take after the people she meets at her boarding school. There's feckless senior Charles, for instance, who introduces her to sex, as well as the reprobate visiting writer Hugo Tappan and Pearl's hard-edged friend Walker. Their lives evoke observations on the differences between men and women, on the influence of chance, and on love. The two worlds--real and fictional--slowly glide into each other, and truth by the end proves as elusive as the ghost that haunts the school, bearing witness, like Hamlet's father, to some past tragedy. Pearl suggests that in storytelling, as in life, there's no going back and no way of changing what was done. A novel of promise, undone by ambition.