ADVENTURES WITH JULIA by Candace Denning (North Point: $13.95; 160 pp.). "Adventures With Julia" is the story of a woman's relentlessly awful inner life, broken only by her mostly vapid outer life. The title, needless to say, is ironic. Julia is 36, a pianist without work, married to a lawyer, well-off, attractive. She lives in a city near enough to New York to go there by train, although the city is never described. Nothing much is described or located. A couple of wingback chairs are referred to a few too many times.
Julia is depressed. She's so hungry for affection and touch that she flirts with every man she meets, including her dentist. She's so lonely that she gets into conversations with dippy antique dealers and then can't get out of their shops. She has no friends. She's self-conscious and desperate. Nothing interests her, and almost nothing breaks through her self-absorption. She is not resigned, however; she tries.
To feel alive, she picks fights with her husband, Michael, breaks her wedding crystal, has two pointless affairs and goes to two therapists. Every now and then, she feels something more than rage: Once when she plays a ballad for her piano teacher (one of the few times we see her working); once when her mother tells her the truth rather than putting up a front; once when a therapist offers her some compassion. These episodes are very finely made; they are so good that Denning may have a second, better novel in her. "Julia" is her first.