Picks and Pans Review: Almost Perfect

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Alice Adams

Anybody home?" calls Richard Fallon as he walks through the door of Stella Blake's San Francisco apartment. But that lighthearted, sitcom greeting echoes ominously within this small space, where the two lovers have carved out a life of passionate reclusion. His friends don't mix with here, hers don't mix with his, and there are times when it seems that neither has any true friends at all.

Almost Perfect, which unfolds with the cocktail-party patter and ironic tone of Adams's previous books (Caroline's Daughters, Superior Women), is the story of this very modern—and very unhealthy—relationship and of the barely made connections that constitute Richard and Stella's circle.

Richard, a strikingly handsome commercial artist, covers his madness and depression with a tightrope act of social bravado. Stella, daughter of an ill-tempered minor celebrity—a "small-time novelist and part-time Stalinist" who "always knew the important, major figures" finds not love, but some romantic facsimile, in his attentions. (Later, she will say: "Richard is the name I give to a certain set of emotions.")

There is an almost claustrophobic feeling to this novel, as Adams traces their doomed affair, with all its brutal twists and turns. Others they know suffer too, from ailments as tragic as AIDS and as petty as indecision. Call it a comedy of manners without the comedy, but the story nonetheless moves brightly forward, thanks to Adams's taut, graceful prose and merciless eye for contemporary delusions. (Knopf, $23)

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