No one writes about the Bohemian New York art and literary scene of the late 1950s and early '60s with more affectionate and rueful insight than Johnson ( Minor Characters ), and this novel, about a doomed love affair with a painter, marks her strongest work so far. A whole era is flawlessly re-created as Joanna, onetime child actress turned Kelly Girl, remembers how she met the boozing, brawling Tom Murphy at a party; they began to live together while he struggled with his painting and his demons. Such characters in novels often become tedious, but here Murphy and Joanna, and their life together, seem to grow so inevitably from their milieu that the book achieves a genuine catharsis. Johnson's narrative tone, in the voice of Joanna, is meticulously maintained: unsentimentally self-aware, wryly observant, accepting without servility. There are wonderful portraits of Greenwich Village characters, with their lofts and odd obsessions. And the scenes with childrenTom's own, by an earlier marriage, and Joanna's son from a later affairhave a transcendent tenderness that is very moving.