Just what does Van, the settled, nicely provided-for widow/heroine of Johnston's debut novel see in the middle-aged German film director, Johann Kraesel? Hard to say. His head is bony, eyes small, lips flabby and colorless, but Van can't get enough of him, and her obsession is stretched into a book here, with only occasionally effective comic slaps and dashes from the author. Mostly, the book's material grunts under the exercise, then expires entirely. Van has a house outside London and one in Tuscany, two teen-age daughters--well-behaved, conveniently so they're seen but not heard from much here--a nice gay Uncle Jim, who warns her when Kraesel rings up asking to rent the Italian villa: ""He was married to a daughter of a friend of mine. . . They say he was foul to her. Don't touch him with a barge pole."" But Van sees Kraesel at the theater, is smitten, then beats him with her high heel when, unaccountably, he breaks into her home to chastise her for wanting too much rent. Thus begins their affair, with Van massaging, soothing, housing, and feeding him, and caring for his personal effects in Italy and England, till she discovers he's still involved with other women. On again, off again they go--five times, as the title proclaims? Who can count? And who can say what at last brings Van to her senses--though it seems to be memories, mostly, of her indomitable housecleaner, Janey, laid low by ""rotters""; a trip to Bolivia; the death of a pet rabbit in her childhood. A shrink helps, too, telling Van, ""You are an emotional woman. . . You handled this affair badly, but that doesn't mean you're unbalanced. Now it's over. Dead."" But Van's case of obsession is never quite convincing; her interludes with Kraesel never seem quite sexy enough; and the best writing here occurs in a long quote from a novel by David Plante.