"Truth and Consequences" by Alison Lurie Viking, 240 pp., $24.95 Alison Lurie's mildly engaging new novel essentially divides the on-campus...

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“Truth and Consequences”

by Alison Lurie

Viking, 240 pp., $24.95

Alison Lurie’s mildly engaging new novel essentially divides the on-campus society it depicts into two bastions. One is composed of those gifted and ruthless “geniuses” who are expert at getting their many needs met and large egos pumped. And then there are the caretakers who get suckered into catering to them.

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The first fellowship is represented here by architect, painter and professor Alan Mackenzie, whose charm and talent have eroded due to the agonizing pain of a chronic back problem. But Alan’s a freshman at the genius game compared to glamorous Delia Delaney, a celebrity novelist and major migraine sufferer who could seduce the thorns off a rose.

Alan’s ultra-patient, college-administrator wife, Jane, and Delia’s protective spouse, Henry, are the self-sacrificing mates who serve these prima donnas. That is, until Jane and Henry fall for each other — at about the same time Alan and Delia are hitting it off.

The author of “The War Between the Tates” and the Pulitzer Prize novel “Foreign Affairs,” Lurie is an old hand at charting the erotic topography of academia. And the coupling and campus politics in “Truth and Consequences” seem right on target.

Most amusing and telling in the tale are the book’s shrewd portraits of Alan and Delia. Drawn astringently, but not without sympathy, these are first-class narcissists — but narcissists with real artistic talent, who know a good muse when they see one.

Intentionally or not, Jane and Henry are kinder but rather dull.

Most tedious, though, is the book’s surprising tone-deafness to the speech and mores of midlife baby boomers — grown-ups who may no longer subscribe to “free love,” excessive drug use and partner-swapping, but certainly wouldn’t be surprised by it.

Misha Berson is the theater critic for The Seattle Times