Picks and Pans Review: A Ship Made of Paper

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Scott Spencer

Fleeing Manhattan after his life is threatened by drug dealers he unsuccessfully defended, lawyer Daniel Emerson returns to his upstate New York hometown with his girlfriend Kate. Soon after arriving, Daniel is helplessly in love with Iris, a married African-American grad student. As in Endless Love—Spencer's 1979 bestseller about doomed teens—where passion grows, trouble is sure to follow.

The characters are smart and complex, and some of Spencer's insights about race have a refreshingly light touch. After their first night together, Daniel asks Iris, "Has the myth of Caucasian sexual prowess been put into clearer perspective?" A few overcooked metaphors and operatic plot turns aside, this is a searching study of the chaotic side of love. (Ecco, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Expertly built

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