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Meet a New York-Jewish writer/editor named Albert--in a book that's positively encrusted with ha-ha/morose aperÇus, with prose that's consciously highstyled. Albert's comings and goings these days involve a large measure of schlemeil-ing: he'll salt and pepper airline mashed potatoes, for instance, before realizing the Saran-Wrap is still on (then the dish turns out to be banana pudding anyway). And Albert is getting more unglued lately--because two of the things that he ""has taken up after forty are adultery and loving his wife."" These two interests are not compatible, of course, and through the normal channels of urban entropy, Albert loses wife Violet and her two children. In their stead he gains: a Boston fern; a clothes dryer for his socks; alimony payments; a touching kind of step-grief when Violet's son Barney kills himself; and a 28-year-old Gentile sportswoman girlfriend who lives in Connecticut and whom he calls ""The Human Dynamo"" (her ""back protrudes from the disordered covers like the ivory hilt of an ornamental dagger that had been thrust at him in the night and missed""). All this adds up to a weight of sadness that Albert bears with almost a sad glee--thus the martyred title and Albert's frequent visions of himself in terms of Italian paintings, of apotheosis: ""a balloon, whose mooring lines are being cast off one by one, so that one day he will unexpectedly, fearfully, stately rise."" This is, then, a wholly vertical book, a totem-pole of deadpan miniatures--no easy thing to sustain; and Rogin doesn't, really: he hits badly fallow patches just about every other chapter (for instance, the book begins dully, leaden with artifice). Many of the chapters here previously appeared in magazines, and thus broken up, they packed more of the desired punch--so perhaps the answer is to read this novel a chapter a week, so as to savor the delicious despondency that's too gooey en casserole. But still, in whatever portions, read it you should--for the dour wit, the persistent intelligence, the rhetorical panache.

Pub Date: March 7th, 1980
Publisher: Random House