Micheline Aharonian Marcom, . . Riverhead, $23.95 (212pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-264-8

A middle-aged survivor of Turkey's Armenian massacres living in Beirut in the 1960s contemplates his brutal past and loses himself in a series of adulterous trysts that bring him slowly to a realization of the moral compromises he has made. Early on in this elegant, penetrating novel, middle-aged Vahé asks, "How did I become this sort of man?" Marcom (author of the well-received Three Apples Fell from Heaven ) supplies an answer with steely delicacy, as Vahé cycles through different memories: of the torments he both endured and visited upon weaker fellow orphans in an Armenian orphanage; of his long-gone family and his pain at his separation from them; of his infatuation with his maid, which turned his wife against him and angers her even as he lays this narrative out like a confession. The haunted, desperate tone reaches fever pitch in Vahé's description of his spiritual relationship with a strangely human-looking ape in the local zoo, as the narrator's imaginings of the beast's emotions are played out upon its contorted features. It is at times like this that Marcom shows her hand a bit too obviously. Yet her writing is mellifluous, so poetically inflected at times as to lull the reader into a trance. The shadow of impending violence troubles the calm, but it is the grim reality of what has already happened that is most harrowing—the evil that Vahé must confront each day, as much as he might try to make himself more comfortable in the world. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra . (Apr.)