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The insular worlds of the New York art and club scenes add edge to author Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, but drowning, whether literal or metaphorical, is the theme that drives the Minnesota author’s third novel. After narrator Leo Hertzberg buys a dreamlike painting by artist Bill Wechsler, he seeks the artist out and the two forge a close friendshipthey even find themselves living in the same apartment building. Their bond deepens when Leo’s son, Matt, drowns in an freak accidentBill and his wife care for Leo and his wife as they struggle to stay afloat. Soon, however, it is Bill’s son, Mark, who finds himself struggling for air, and Leo must witness the loss of a child in a way that is slow and, in some respects, even more painful than the sudden death of Matt. Hustvedt captures the pain of loss beautifully and thoroughly; mourning is insidious and chokingnot a brief digression that merits only a chapter. Her only misstep is in dealing with Mark’s breakdown. He falls into an underworld of lies and deceit, and a strange rave-scene subplot that involves drugs, partying at the Limelight, and a young sociopathic artist. The story line is instantly recognizable as a variation on that of real-life club-killer Michael Alig, but both Michael Musto and a movie about Alig have got that tale covered. The E! True Hollywood Story turn scuffs an otherwise seamless novel that explores grief, love, art, friendship, and the intersection of all four. Hustvedt is in town at 7 p.m. at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Sarah Godfrey)