September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

by Amy Ephron

With deceptive simplicity and appealingly uncluttered prose, novelist and screenwriter Amy Ephron—sister of Nora (Heartburn) and Delia (Hanging Up)—weaves a morality tale that moves inexorably from mannered start to jarring finish. Taking the Katherine Mansfield short story of the same title as her point of departure, Ephron reacquaints readers with Rosemary Fell, an “almost pretty” New York City socialite who capriciously coaxes penniless Eleanor Smith into her home one rainy afternoon, aiming to warm her with tea and kindness. When Rosemary’s fiancé pronounces the ragged young woman “astonishingly pretty,” Rosemary sends Eleanor packing—and the Mansfield story ends.

Ephron follows Eleanor back out into the drizzle and pursues the resulting love triangle. Relying on the same sort of well-chosen scenes, precise detail and spare dialogue that distinguished Mansfield’s writing, Ephron deftly evokes the social divisions and jittery excitement of World War I America, then delivers a denouement that seems as inevitable as it is devastating. (Morrow, $20)

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