A chronicle of obsession, self-indulgence, and, in a curious way, moral growth, expertly poised between realistic narrative and allegorical fable, from the author of such intriguing, if sometimes unduly gossamer, fictions as Edwin Mullhouse (1972) and In the Penny Arcade (1986). The eponymous Martin, a quiet, diligent youth who learns the rudiments of business practices as a clerk in his father's Manhattan cigar store in the 1890s, rises gradually to wealth and fame as bellhop and eventually second-in-command at a well-known New York hotel, then proprietor of his own cigar store, afterward a thriving lunchroom, and, before his 30th birthday, of the ultramodern Dressler Hotel and its even more successful successors, most notably the Grand Cosmo, ``a leap beyond the hotel,'' that incorporates elements of a traveling Chautauqua, a theme park, and even a hint of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Millhauser gives equal weight--as never before in his fiction--to both the dreamlike nature of Martin's ambitions and progress, and the quotidian mechanics of achieving that success: The novel is built up from an amazing density of specific period detail that never for a moment seems oppressive or ostentatious. Millhauser also develops with great skill the relationships through which Martin realizes his own nature: those with business associates and mentors, and especially with ``the Vernon women,'' a mother and two adult daughters with whom he establishes an unconventional friendship, leading him to a profitable partnership and a disillusioning marriage. This strange story ends with Martin on the verge of ruin, having realized that ``he had dreamed the wrong dream, the dream that others didn't wish to enter,'' yet in no sense defeated, still enchanted, empowered- -and limited--by his dream. A fascinating and provocative portrayal of turn-of-the-century America tht hums with energy and wit. It might be another of Dreiser's densely packed tales of financiers and titans, written at characteristic white heat, but by an immeasurably more graceful stylist.