September 11, 1995 12:00 PM

by Philip Roth

Memory and desire, the forces that have moved Philip Roth’s men from Portnoy to Zuckerman, drive Mickey Sabbath close to the brink. At 64, the overweight, arthritic Sabbath is obsessed with sexual desire, particularly for his rapacious former lover Drenka, who has just died at 52.

In this self-indulgent, self-loathing, hilarious rant, Sabbath recounts his failures. He is the creator of the Indecent Theater, an obscene puppet show that never found an audience on the streets of New York City. His first wife, Nikki, disappeared mysteriously years ago, and he is now shackled to Roseanne, a woman he despises. “Wifeless, mistressless, penniless, vocationless, homeless, and…on the run,” Sabbath travels from his New England exile to New York City. Enroute, he stops to visit the graves of his family, which resurrect memories of his childhood by the shore, his depressed mother, overworked father and beloved older brother Morty, who died at age 20 in World War II.

For much of the novel, Sabbath comes off as a lecherous narcissist. But eventually, Roth seduces us with his character’s grand obsessions. Alternately whining, boasting, raging, Sabbath never rests until he wins the reader’s compassion. He is Roth’s finest, fiercest creation. (Houghton Mifflin, $24.95)

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