Two pairs of appealingly flawed, star- crossed lovers are divided and reunited by fate, chance and the forces of history and memory in Howard's vibrant and touching seventh novel, set in New York on the cusp of the millennium. The relationship of farm-bred artist Louise Moffett and Park Avenue-raised Artie Freeman founders when Lou becomes fed up with Artie's fecklessness. An unemployed computer whiz, Artie has been emotionally unmoored since his countercultural mother died in an accident without having revealed the identity of his father. Artie's widowed grandfather Cyril, retired from a career on Wall Street and struggling with increasing blindness, waits stoically for death until Sylvie Waite, a woman from his past, suggests that they can find happiness together. One couple will muddle through their difficulties, the other will succumb to one of life's ironies, and Howard (Natural History) charts their course with her customary wit and eloquence. Drawing on her keen instincts for historical relevance and social barometers she knits into the episodic narrative snippets of history; biographical details (of Alexander Graham Bell, Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, Diderot); astronomy and astrology; science and technology; and predictions from the Old Farmer's Almanac (this repository of folklorish wisdom and prognosticator of the future provides the framework for her lovers' progress from month to month). Sinewy prose that embraces the vernacular as well as expressing the profound is one of the pleasures of this provocative novel of ideas. Illustrations. Agent: Watkins Loomis. (Jan.) FYI: Penguin will reissue Howard's second novel, Bridgeport Bus, in January.