Brian Morton, Author . Harcourt $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-15-100757-8

Suffering a "crisis of the spirit" and stagnating in her relationship with an ailing academic, short story writer Nora Howard calls her old flame, photographer Isaac Mitchell, at three a.m. one night, after not having spoken with him for five years. Roused from a dead sleep, he's still happy to hear her voice. Thus Morton reunites a pair of New York lovers in his latest novel, an incisive story of a romance tainted by thwarted artistic ambition and fear of failure. Nora, demoralized by her extended bout with writer's block, and Isaac, who hasn't come to terms with his decision to take a job as a photo editor after years of working as a freelancer, attempt to seek solace in each other. But Nora has a cannibalistic habit of turning friends and lovers into fodder for her short stories, and fears she won't be able to resist making use of Isaac. Morton gracefully choreographs the lovers' wary dance, poignantly capturing Nora's ambivalence and Isaac's guarded adoration. The narrow Manhattan horizons and one-note plot make for an insular story, but Morton's warm yet analytical prose gives the familiar scenes a fresh, revelatory feel, especially when Nora pens a story about Isaac that gets published in a prominent literary magazine. The counterpart to the romance is an elegiac subplot about Nora's beloved Aunt Billie, who is dying of cancer. The modesty of this novel gracefully offsets the delicacy and insight with which Morton writes about the junction of love and art. (Sept.)

Forecast:Morton plays to a New York audience, but strong reviews should help build his readership across the country among fans of cerebral romance.

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 00/00/0000
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Paperback - 289 pages - 978-0-15-603012-0
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