Asa Leventhal, who works as an editor of a trade paper. He finds his life turned upside down in a matter of days. While Asa’s wife, Mary, is out of town visiting relatives, Asa receives a call from his brother’s wife, Elena, who is also alone. Her husband, Max, has gone to Texas for a better job. Elena’s son Mickey is sick, and she asks Asa for help. Over the next few days, Mickey grows worse and dies. At the same time, Asa meets a seedy alcoholic, Kirby Allbee, who blames his downfall on Asa. Years before, using Kirby as a reference, Asa had a job interview with Kirby’s employer, Mr. Rudiger. During the interview, Asa had argued rudely with Rudiger. Shortly afterward, Kirby was fired, and he thinks that Asa’s outburst with his boss started his problems, which also include the death of his wife in an accident. Asa is at first irritated with Kirby’s constant appearances and requests for help, but he is gradually overwhelmed by a growing sense of responsibility for Kirby. When Kirby is thrown out of his rooming house, Asa takes him in. Kirby wants to reverse his fate by the same device that caused it; he asks Asa to introduce him to an acquaintance in the hope of landing a job. Asa catches Kirby in his bed with a woman and throws him out, but Kirby sneaks back in and tries to gas himself while Asa is sleeping. Gradually, Asa becomes crushed by the weight of his guilt—guilt over what he did or Kirby imagines he did, guilt over his distant relationship with his brother, guilt over his inability to prevent the death of his nephew, and guilt about his Jewish heritage. All these elements combine to make Asa a severely chastened person. In a surprise ending months after Kirby’s suicide attempt, Asa and his wife meet Kirby in the company of a beautiful actress, at a theater. Kirby is doing quite well, and Asa is completely bewildered. Now it is unclear who is the victim.
Kirby Allbee, who at first appears to be the victim of the title. He is adept at manipulating people, particularly Asa. He tries to get Asa to arrange a meeting with Shifcart, the man he hopes will get him a job, even though he knows nothing about the man—he found Shifcart’s business card in Asa’s belongings. Kirby thinks that Asa will have special influence with Shifcart because both men are Jews. Asa begins to think of Kirby as a kind of double or as an agent of the dark, failure-ridden side of his personality.
(The entire section is 658 words.)