The nuclear holocaust has come and gone. Only one man survives: paleologist Calvin Cohn, who happened to be safely, deeply underwater at the time. And, after some black-humor-ish conversations with God, Cohn is allowed to live--for a while, at least--and he finds himself on an island a la Robinson Crusoe, with a communicative chimp named Buz (product of chimp-speech experiments) as his only companion. Cohn, son of a rabbi, engages in existential, religious, and Talmudic speculations with the chimp--though he refrains from trying to convert him to Judaism. He must reexamine the basics of social interaction--when Buz gets too physically chummy ("If you had suckled the lad, could you marry him?"), when a friendly gorilla appears and causes jealousies, and, above all, when five more talking chimps appear. . . including the lisping Mary Madelyn, the object of everyone's sexual attention (including Cohn's). Can a decent civilization be made from these creatures? Cohn believes that "if this small community behaved, developed, endured, it might someday--if some chimpy Father Abraham got himself born--produce its own Covenant with God." But such visions of a peaceful society are doomed, of course: envy, hatred, and violence inevitably ensue--and Cohn's mating with Mary Madelyn ("I have kept my virginity for you ever since you expwained the word to me when you first read me Rome and Juwiet") will eventually lead to murder and revolution. Despite Malamud's shadings with rabbinical law, then, this is a familiar hopeless-Utopia blueprint. Moreover, the restless treatment here--part downbeat-comic, part liturgical-lyric--never endows the tale with the sort of Biblical fervor which heightens the best of Doris Lessing's fables. And the result is a disappointing, predictable parable--intentionally funny at times but unintentionally funny too, hollow in most of its lyrical moments, and only occasionally provocative in its eclectic philosophizing.