Stella Duffy, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-32541-1

A cartographer with a taste for theories of place succumbs to cancer in this metaphorical tale of mortality and mapmaking. New Zealander Duffy's eighth novel (her first to be published in the U.S.) begins when Cindy Frier, author of a popular treatise on maps called Dis-location, meets Jack Stratton, a successful British news producer, at a party in New York City. Shortly after they become a couple, Jack receives a career-making promotion that takes him and Cindy to the beachy environs of Los Angeles. At this point, a third character enters the story: Cindy's cancer. Duffy strives hard for a distinctive narrative voice, veering from lyricism to purposefully stilted bluntness, with mixed results (on the progress of the couple's relationship: "Cindy and Jack thought that change, in the form of Jack and Cindy, looked pretty good"). But when the novel turns into a chronicle of Cindy's rapid decline, Duffy's tone steadies. Romance provides relief from the litany of treatments and side-effects, as do original ideas about the way illness insidiously etches its own map on our lives and bodies. The tale's tragic ending is telegraphed well in advance, but it's the path taken that counts in this artful if rather self-conscious novel. Agent, Stephanie Cabot at William Morris. (Dec.)