Biography is the story of a biographer and his struggle to get a life. Gittelson’s hero is Raphael Alter, a likable, self- deluded writer who digs into other people’s pasts because he can’t confront his own. While researching a book on Maxwell Leibert — a dead poet of the drunk-genius variety — Alter falls for a mysterious redhead named Chloe, who’s somehow related to his subject. (Remember the sister-daughter scene in Chinatown?) Alter soon gets in over his head and so, unfortunately, does Gittelson. Although she writes quick, clever prose and her book is full of , eccentric characters and marvelous set pieces (the decrepit apartment building where Alter lives, for instance), her finale is disastrous — a bit of Ian McEwan-style grotesquerie that seems obscene in such a mild-mannered book. Still, Gittelson’s novel evokes many of the debates about biography that have sprung up of late. Those who think the late Anne Sexton’s therapist was too forthcoming with her biographer will be happy to hear that Leibert’s analyst grants only 50-minute sessions and charges the going rate. B