``The triangle may be the most stable form in geometry, but in the geometry of human relations it is notoriously precarious,'' writes Shapiro ( The Right Bitch ) in her cynical and cleverly phrased novel. For all its machinations, and despite some insightful takes on lust, deception and discontent, the story covers very little ground as it ruminates over and over on unwinnable situations that lead to despair. In Manhattan, ad designer Ella two-times true-blue but dull Stephen with a married photographer, while neurotic conductor Burton, who's romancing an even more neurotic violinist, proves too kind to abandon his other, narcissistic lover. The unfortunate Stephen, a pianist, is composing a drag version of Othello called Otella --``If you were reading a novel about a woman having an affair and her husband were working on a musical based on Othello , you would groan at the improbability of the coincidence, the bad taste of it,'' the text glibly acknowledges. For sharp characterization and wry, generally acerbic comments on relationships, Shapiro outclasses most of her peers. She employs her talents so deftly, in fact, that readers may be willing to accept her tale's partial open-endedness; it is, after all, an approximation of life. (Jan.)
Artists are supposed to be eccentric, but this group takes the cake. Steven (a composer) and Ella (a painter) live together, but Ella is having an affair with Frank (a photographer). Ave (a professional mooch) moves in with Burton (a conductor), even though Burton is interested in Cynthia (a violinist). All these characters know or know of each other, leading to a hair-trigger tension that builds throughout the book. Will Ella leave Steven? Will Cynthia stop drinking if she wins Burton from Ave? Who will run off together? Shapiro ( So There , Grove, 1992) writes with flair, making vivid each scene, from sex to symphony, and creating a memorable, if not happy, novel. Recommended.-- Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence
The characters in this jaunt through contemporary relationships--both romantic liaisons and friendships--have lived themselves into corners where they are less than satisfied with themselves and their lives. Some of them are looking for reasons to live, some worry that the best of their lives are over, and others hide from themselves in self-destructive behavior. Ella Vaporsky falls in love with a married man who intends to stay that way and proceeds to unweave her life with Stephen, the man she fell in love with in college and has lived with for almost 10 years. Ave is a professional manipulator who deceives no one more than herself, and Cynthia is a quiet violinist with no self-confidence who allows herself to be hurt because she doesn't believe she deserves any better. Finally, Burton is incapable of saying no to either those who demand too much of him or himself when he knows what he is doing is wrong. The interactions between these characters are both comical and tragic, and the reader is impelled to the end to find out how their affairs turn out.