Review of The Nihilesthete, by Richard Kalich (Betimes Books)
When social-worker Haberman finds a limbless wheelchair-bound man observing a street artist, it’s as if all his birthdays have come at once. He can now set about the task that he may always have been destined for, to take this unfortunate victim under his monstrous wing and systematically abuse him (mentally and spiritually) until he is somehow sated.
Why does he do this? What unfortunate events in his past have compelled him to carry out such atrocities? Wrong question. It’s like asking how Winnie got buried in sand in Beckett’s “Happy Days”: the fact is that she just happens to be buried in sand; the fact is that Haberman just happens to be this way, like Simenon’s Frank Friedermaier in Dirty Snow perhaps, bad to the bone. Those looking for easy armchair-psychology rationalizations have come to the wrong anti-hero.
Sure, Haberman has his gripes with Mrs. Knox, his uptight colleague, but it’s hardly the reason to go this far into sadism, and yet somehow he remains thoroughly engaging; no matter how brutal he is willing to go, we stay with his wanton leanings, keen as we are to know just how far he is going to push his “project”.
Haberman does show brief moments of light, he does for example allow Brodski the quadriplegic to paint (and the poor man does so masterfully) by the use of prosthetic limbs, but he is then so enraged by the art produced that he slowly, painstakingly removes all his aids again. Perhaps it is this building up of hope and the consequent shattering of it that gives Haberman his kicks, but then that also is perhaps too simplistic a reading; it is imposable to know the true drives behind his act of cruelty, and the reader keeps wanting to know just how terribly it all will end.
Kafka, Gombrowicz and Beckett might all spring to mind as you read this short stab of a novel, but Kalich stands on his own feet in producing a twisted and often grotesque imagining. This novel has fortunately been brought back to life again by Betimes Books as the first part of the Central Park West Trilogy, and the publisher should be heralded for bringing to our attention a writer too long ignored.
A must then for readers interested in unusual fictions, excited by the idea of alternative (albeit horrible narrators) and those simply tired of the staid and banal. For those curious (and brave) enough to step over to the other side, Richard Kalich maybe be the writer you’ve always been searching for.
My debut novel Killarney Blues is available here: http://viewbook.at/killarneyblues