Pashman debuts with this precise and troubling portrait of a smug and cultured man who doesn't recognize his own despair. Nathan Kline is an ophthalmologist on the way up: He has the right credentials, a Park Avenue practice, and a carefully cultivated appreciation of music, food, and painting. When he spots Carla, a fresh-faced college student, in an elevator, he pegs her as a thoroughbred and wants her for his wife. He writes her a letter introducing himself; her parents, impressed by his rÇsumÇ and his vocabulary, urge her to accept a date. And though Carla never feels more than mild affection for him, she bows to popular opinion and marries him. In short order, Nathan comes to find his wife inscrutable, her quirks unpleasant, her neuroses worthy of contempt. Still, there are consolations: He rakes in grant money to conduct research that a loyal assistant designs; he has a chain of extramarital affairs; his practice flourishes; his form on the ski slope is admirably crisp. Years go by. He has two daughters and is surprised and pleased by their affection; he goes to concerts; he disappoints his marriage-minded lovers by not leaving his wife. Nathan's realizes, though, that his body is aging; the prospect of open-heart surgery makes him briefly aware of the extent to which he never understood his patient's fears. In despair, he calls Vera, the ex-lover of a friend: She's intelligent, self-possessed, and alive, and he begins to fantasize about a new beginning. But ultimately the familiar inertia prevails, and he remains tied to Carla. Nathan is a memorable character, restless in his ambitions but remarkably unable to reflect on what he lacks or to value what he has. A vivid cautionary tale, then, about the seductions and emptiness of a life in which conquest stands in for love.