The urban-affair novel seems to have replaced the suburban-marriage novel as fiction's latest idea of a flexible social barometer--and Brickner's new book is a good, if Limited, example of the genre. Alan Hoffman is 40 and unmarried, a writer for a New York newsweekly, and an addict of the most tony metropolitan entertainments: he attends three or four opera performances a week during the season (as many concerts, too), and his collection of ticket stubs, all saved, is legendary. Importunate, impatient, voluptuously egotistical and brusque, Alan has found in opera a stylization of what, in life, he finds least bearable--the sheer time it takes for life and love to conspire. Then, in the Met lobby one night, he meets a lawyer he once interviewed, and the lawyer's wife: Betsy Ring--who turns out to be Alan's complement, an Iphigenia in Limbo, bright and yet perfectly, gracefully confused, swinging from on high during the period of doubt marked by the upcoming publication of her first novel and the postponed beginning of her second. Their affair starts as a stutter, and Brickner sets down the physical shyness and hesitancy perfectly. And then, suddenly--pure opera--the lawyer husband dies of a coronary . . . which leaves the nervous lovers with even greater guilt and even greater edginess, all expressed in increasingly brittle dialogue: ""You were sounding so damn stingy. I decided to have had enough. And I had to tell you something that made me feel entitled to override you."" Brickner (Bringing Down the House, My Second Twenty Years) has invested real sensitivity into this etiolated tale, giving Alan, in particular, the swift to-and-fro of feelings that most novelists consciously reserve for their main female player But despite this (and the intelligence of the opera metaphor throughout), the novel never rises above its characters' well-educated neuroses, never becomes the full-fledged love story it seems to aspire to--and when the affair is ended by sudden death, the climactic liebestod is unaffecting and noticeably contrived. Clever, sensitive, and talented work, then, yet limited by the very special nature and tone of the classy-urban-affair genre.