October 24, 2005 12:00 PM

By Mary Gaitskill

Surely this is one of the first novels to use hepatitis C as a plot device. Gaitskill never specifies how Alison, the 46-year-old narrator, contracted the disease. But we learn enough about her past as a hippie chick and a coked-out model to plausibly imagine shared needles and louche living.

The irony, though, is that it is Alison’s unlikely friend Veronica, a fussy, wisecracking copy editor she meets on a temp job, who has died of AIDS, infected by her bisexual boyfriend. This is not a cheery book. But it is a brave one that looks back from ravaged middle age on an era of blithe self-invention. “We were stupid, spoiled and arrogant,” Alison concludes. “But we were right, too.”

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