Put a cracked cup in scalding water and it will shatter; put a man of divided allegiances in a divided country at a divided time, and perhaps he'll break; or perhaps he'll stand up to it, leading a double life, like Eberhard Starusch, West Berlin professor, dunderhead to his students, playboy terrorist in his fantasies, the fortyish tragicomic hero of Gunter Grass' quarrelsome and brilliant new novel. "Nothing lasts. There will always be pain"--there are Starusch's final words after recounting for us, from his dentist's chair, his mouth full of symbolic decay, what it's like experiencing Germany in 1967, the Right beyond contempt, and the Left, idolizing Che and Bob Dylan, increasingly idiotic: which way should the humanist and socialist turn, how should he wage the good fight? This, of course, is Gunter Grass' dilemma, one he has been wrangling with, publicly and politically, over the last years; here the schizoid imagination of Starusch, coupled with the fanatical sprightliness, but no less melancholy, style with which it is expressed, surely mirrors Grass' own troubled state, making Local Anaesthetic the wildest and most personal of his impressive works. The other characters, while lacking the tour de force dimensions of Starusch, are nevertheless more than adequate adjuncts to the curiously dazzling and ironic improvisations which give the book both its maniacal tempo (a bit similar to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five) and deeply contemporary, befuddled nerve. An achievement.