As Marya Cohn’s romantic drama “The Girl in the Book” begins, Alice (Emily VanCamp, formerly of “Revenge” on ABC), an editorial assistant at a Manhattan publishing house, lacks self-esteem. She flounders at writing fiction; she is tiring of one-night stands; her supercilious boss (Jordan Lage) ignores her discovery of a promising novelist; and her dominating father, an old-school hotshot literary agent (Michael Cristofer), refuses to believe she can make her own decisions. Clearly, Alice has problems with men, especially male authority figures.

Now a former client of her father, the established writer Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist), is taking his latest novel to Alice’s boss, and Alice is assigned to promote it. She’d rather not: From flashbacks, we learn that 15 years earlier, when Alice was a teenager, Milan attempted to seduce her under the pretense that he was cultivating her budding literary skills. The exploitation did not end there; she was the model for a character of his who is regarded in literary circles as the “female Holden Caulfield.”

There’s a glimmer of hope in Alice’s present when, through her best friend, Sadie (Ali Ahn), a pregnant stay-at-home mother, she meets Emmett (David Call), a handsome, earnest but easygoing political activist who refers to his “abnormally normal” upbringing. But as Milan re-enters her life, Alice is again lost in a familiar spiral; it’s no accident that she and Sadie meet at the “Alice in Wonderland” statue in Central Park. Soon Alice must fight to hold on to Emmett.

Another Carrollian allusion — distantly evoking the inspirational if mysterious relationships of Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) with Lorina and Alice Liddell — informs the scenes with Milan and the 14-year-old Alice (Ana Mulvoy-Ten).These encounters, which induce a quiet, queasy suspense, teeter between Milan’s sexual agenda and Alice’s desire for paternal encouragement, and play havoc with her adult future.

Mr. Nyqvist (the male protagonist in the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” movies) is part sanctimonious celebrity and part insinuating predator; the tentative Ms. Mulvoy-Ten appears somewhat uneasy in her role, which only helps her performance. As for Ms. VanCamp’s adult Alice, she is a rounded, winning blend of self-doubt and fitful initiative.

The director, Ms. Cohn, making her feature debut, wrote the script and handily keeps the story’s many elements in motion. A third-act sequence in which the Internet unlocks Alice’s creativity as she pleads for Emmett’s forbearance is a little tidy in its overnight resolution. But Ms. Cohn stops well short of overweening sentiment. Given her confident hand behind the camera and gift for rich female characters, you hope to see more portraits from her in the future.

“The Girl in the Book” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.