Elkin, whose Magic Kingdom tours terminally ill children about Disney World, here reconfirms his reputation as master of the ineffable. Once again, he defies death with a glistening tale that is laugh-out-loud hilarious as well as poignant. He introduces Rabbi Jerry Goldkorn, a graduate of an offshore yeshiva in the Maldive Islands, whose business is officiating at funerals of people he has never met in the necropolis of Lud, N.J. Endearingly, madly in love with an eccentric wife who is turned on by his phylacteries, he lives in a ghost town of death's service-related industries, where his daughter, the only child in this Potemkin village, learns to read Hebrew from tombstones. Voluble, acerbically witty and deliciously irreverent (to his mind, the dead laid out in caskets behind the plate glass of the funeral home ""looked too much like the lobsters one picks out for one's dinner at the bottom of the tanks in seafood restaurants''), he lies low and coasts through life. But one day the ``professional grief administrator'' is forced to confront realityhis teenage daughter, aware that her father is a professional failure, rebels; shortly thereafter, he has to officiate at the funeral of someone he has loved. Elkin's self-mocking send-up of Judaism and New Jersey suburbia evokes Philip Roth, and his descriptions of obsequies, religious proprieties, voluptuary morticians, the physically disabled or the madcap adventures of the chief rabbi of the Alaska Pipeline (Goldkorn's one-time pulpit) are keenly convincing. Readers may be disappointed that his story ends rather abruptly, but they will be convinced that Elkin is a sorcerer, whose enchanting farce is paradoxically rooted in the quotidian; his secrets are all the more faith- and life-affirming because they are shrouded in death and disaster. A chapter previously appeared in Chicago magazine. (October 14) to Jane or Ann Y.: since this review is long, please try to break it rather than have it run the length of a column. you can change the pub date order if you have to.