Richard Kalich – Philosophical sadism: he loses his penis, is completely dismembered, suffocated, starved and cut in half, yet continues to come back

Richard Kalich, Charlie P, Green Integer, 2005.

«In Charlie P author Richard Kalich offers us a singularly unique, comic and outlandish Everyman. A looney-tune figure of the American manchild— the kind of eternally adolescent men one sees on any American street corner— who, in his episodic adventures through life, loses his penis, is completely dismembered, suffocated, starved and cut in half, yet continues to come back for more. At age three, when his father dies, he decides to overcome mortality by becoming immortal. By not living his life he will live forever. Whether he's pursuing the girl of his dreams or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Charlie P ends up with no more than a peck on the cheek or robbed blind. Even when dead and called to Heaven for an accounting, he remains the eternal optimist.
Now that he's dead and gone, he finally has a real chance at achieving his ends. He can start over. Having never lived his life, his life has not yet hardly begun. Akin to other great American icons such as Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, Ring Lardner's Al, and Forrest Gump, Charlie P plumbs the relation between fantasy and reality to offer us a character both asocial and alienated and, at the same time, at the heart of the American Dream.»

«In this zany, episodic picaresque, anxiety and erections rule the life of the title Charlie, a priapic, Woody Allen-style flaneur, "Peckerhead and Prophet. Pariah and Prodigal Son... all things to all people and nothing to himself." As Charlie tells his shrink, it was a domineering mother who turned him into an amiable, sex-mad slacker: she wanted him to be a novelist. Instead, Charlie interviews possible agents and publishers without writing a word-or indeed reading a single book, despite the fact that he has compiled a massive library. At every turn through Charlie's mild misadventures, Kalich tries to go over the top: in one episode, Charlie misplaces his penis and envisions the happy life to come without the trouble of a sex life. In another episode he falls victim to a bizarre series of accidents, losing all five senses and suffering manifold indignities in a Kafkaesque hospital, right up to having his ass removed and sewn on to the body of another. It's hard to see where Kalich is going with so much coy buffoonery, but he hints that Charlie's behavior is all too typical of an ongoing cultural crisis of masculinity. This book doesn't help.» - Publishers Weekly

«The title character of Richard Kalich's third novel, Charlie P, simultaneously has it all and has nothing:"Peckerhead and Prophet, Pariah and Prodigal son. Charlie P is all things to all people and nothing to himself." His personal and public identities sit on opposite ends of the same seesaw; when one's on the rise, the other's on its way down.
Kalich's hero seems like a particularly protean version of John Bunyan's Christian everyman (had he been an atheist). In the course of just 250 pages, Kalich offers dozens of picaresque moments: Charlie P plays baseball, decides to live forever, finds his life empty, feels his life is full, masters many professions but practices none, walks around the world in eighty days, strikes out with women, and throws a party that nobody (including himself) attends. He also passes away at the page of 218, loses his penis, dies again but continues living in his apartment as if nothing had happened, thinks of each fruit or vegetable he eats as a new woman to be seduced, sleeps in the morgue because he knows he won't be disturbed there, and is mutilated and dismembered.
The story is, obviously, not realistic by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't an exercise in absurdity simply for absurdity's sake. Kalich is engaged throughout the novel in the difficult task of balancing the realistic against the fantastic in such a way that the reader is able to pass back and forth between the two realms with each maintaining its particular charms. As a result, Charlie P remains sympathetic and genuine despite the nonsensicality he swims in. The project meshes well with contemporary new wave fabulist fiction, such as the work of Shelley Jackson, Matthew Derby, and Salvador Plascencia (or even the not-so-new fabulist David Ohle). But while those writers use the creation of a fantastic milieu to slyly unveil the idiosyncrasies of our contemporary culture, Kalich goes for larger prey. He's after what it means to be profoundly out of step with one's culture yet still unwilling to let go of the American dream. And this tension between dream and reality makes Charlie P a deliciously painful book.
For Kalich, it's the unimagined life rather than the unexamined one that isn't worth living. His novel explores the overlap between an impoverished real life and richly imagined experience. Charlie P's experiences are nothing if not vividly and contradictorily concocted. Which is to say they're really nothing. But at the same time, what's imagination if not everything?» - Brian Evenson

«In the October 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine, the up-and-coming Ben Marcus set the ("experimental") fiction world atwitter with his ferocious and funny rejoinder to Jonathan Franzen's 2002 article, "Mr. Difficult." Marcus's examination of the earlier Franzen piece is intriguing for many of its qualities, not the least of which is that it speaks to what was something of a theme for the issue: return. An equally fascinating piece, right at the front of the issue, also reflects upon an earlier essay. In "On Message," Lewis H. Lapham invokes Umberto Eco's 1995 "Ur-Fascism" to warn us against the potential danger of reducing certain facets of language to idiom. "[I]t's a mistake to translate fascism into literary speech," Lapham, citing Eco, warns. "By retrieving from our historical memory only the vivid and familiar images of fascist tyranny (Gestapo firing squads, Soviet labor camps, the chimneys at Treblinka), we lose sight of the faith-based initiatives that sustained the tyrant's rise to glory." (Lapham 7)
Certain skeptics, and maybe Lapham himself, would be unsurprised that "On Message" garnered far less attention than the more dramatically titled "How experimental fiction threatens to destroy publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and life as we know it: A Correction;" after all, Lapham himself notes that, presently "[t]he author on the platform or on the beach towel can be relied upon to direct his angriest invective at the other members of the academy who failed to drape around the title of his latest book the garland of a rave review" (Lapham 9) rather than protest what he sees as the decline of American democracy into a fascist regime.
Indeed, Lapham strikes the mark with his broader point, borrowed from Eco: language can, and often does, serve a pointed, historical purpose. To resurface that language with the patina of the cliché can imperil the astuteness with which we view our present. By relying on caricatures that are absolutely, clearly "not us," Americans can easily overlook some disturbing similarities that the American government shares with the actual, rather than an idiomatic hyperbole of the fascist praxis of government.
But we ought not overlook the debates being played out in the literary sphere as mere disagreements on beach towels over the relative superiority of vintages - to do so would countermand the very exercise Lapham's article enjoins the public to undertake. As "On Message" suggests, we must continue to interrogate the manner in which our language is employed, to question the very nature of the way our world is represented or dangerously mis represented. Lapham reminds us that cliché is more than a shorthand within communities: it essentializes, it "universalizes," and very often it fails us at moments of greatest urgency. Such a concern strikes at the very heart of Richard Kalich's Charlie P.
Rather than tackle the clichéd task of writing a Magnum Opus or a Masterpiece, Kalich's second novel makes of itself something not lesser, but other. Charlie P is an effort at a Subject-piece, as much interested in the idea of the novel as it is a novel of ideas, exposing how a man is made of stories and only self-made inasmuch as he is able to control the process of narrating his own existence; it is the story of postmodern megalomania. Aware that there is not one, but there are infinite contemporary worlds, the title character—or, more accurately, caricature—sequesters himself to a rocking-chair in an apartment, content to control the language that produces his own world(s) by excluding the destabilizing force of voices beyond his own. Hence, to Charlie P, contradiction is not a challenge to understanding but the rule; the ultimate activity is a refusal to participate; denial is the most creative act.
Far from an endorsement of this type of removal, the story of Charlie P is the story of our quotidian, unthinking relationship to language. In the unfolding of this active disengagement, Kalich attempts to write an essay on cliché itself. Constantly employing the idiomatic—often in lists that recall the work of Gilbert Sorrentino—the novel highlights the vitality of language by assaulting us with atrophied conventions:
Charlie P. has spent many long years pursuing the woman of his dreams. Indefatigably he's traversed the globe, caught a slow boat to China, sailed the seven seas; even built his own space capsule and journeyed to the outer reaches. Still, despite his considerable efforts, the perfect woman continues to elude him. (32)
Familiar to the point of vacuity, the reflexive language in Charlie P illustrates the emptying out of experience through our own inability to narrate the new. Charlie P is himself no exception. Though his world does accommodate the possibility for creating new (if logically untenable) truths, these truths are only ever the product of recycled accounts of 'experiences,' couched in the brittle diction of stale platitudes. The fact that these events are the product of fantasy only serves as further evidence toward the indictment of conventional language and conventional narrative forms as the greatest contributors to the homogeneity both of meaning and, ultimately, American life. After all, Charlie P's fantasy life is played out, by and large, in the fields of stereotype and egotistical projection.
In a way, Kalich's project functions as a development of early twentieth-century novels such as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio or Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts. Like his modernist predecessors, Kalich shirks the florid for concision, and builds a space that is, in large part, aesthetically consistent. As in Winesburg, Charlie P is a novel in a series of more or less discrete narratives that compose its whole. While Anderson attempts to extricate the universal from particulars—linking swollen knuckles to twisted apples that bear a unique sweetness to those able to look beyond the superficial, for instance—and creates a totality out of the fragmentary, Kalich takes to task the kinds of maxims which presuppose that universals can bind the particular into an essential human understanding. Undoing the work of stories recently told, or simply retelling the same events repeatedly, though differing in detail, he constantly subverts the reader's compulsion to create narrative consistency by contradicting previously given details. And unlike Anderson and West, Charlie P's language is not the medium through which he transcends the self into a relationship with the larger community - Charlie P feels subject to the tyranny of the communal unless he is able to seal himself off from it and compose his own subjectivity in his own (narrative) image. Because of this self-styled representation, Charlie P is much like his library of books never read, his own novel which is never written; he is a fiction, even in the world of the fictive.
By adding to and altering details within a single narrative framework, Kalich in fact strips away the façade of his story to expose the basic assumptions that make what is generally agreed to be a novel. What Kalich shows is that these assumptions, themselves, remain mostly unidentified. Charlie P himself is barely a character, and the oft-appearing Bulgarian Harpist even less: her very existence outside Charlie's imagination is questionable. Yet we are told a great deal about them. There is little that resembles a plot, nor are there the kinds of tensions elicited by the more "conventional" novel. Yet there is still a world, consistent in its inconsistency, and in that world a life, however unlived. In effect, Charlie P simultaneously asks how little is too little, and how much is too much, to create a coherent, believable narrative.
Charlie P is a carefully wrought novel with a deft sense of humor and a strong awareness of its place in literary discourse. With each answer it prompts new questions; with each added detail, it destabilizes certainty. For all that, readers must have temerity, curiosity, and the ability to build on constantly shifting ground - or a willingness to subject themselves to the elements of the indeterminate and the multiple.
Though it is widely agreed that Emerson was right when claiming that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," the thoughtful and creative manipulation of a sustained consistency can be a challenge to the vastest and deepest of intellects. Richard Kalich is able to effect this type of consistency throughout the whole of Charlie P: an accomplishment to be admired.» - Christopher Leise

«One critic recently condemned a novel for being "familiar," as if somehow novels could be unfamiliar. No paragraphs. No language. Heck—no paper or ink or binding. Duchamp's urinal—now that's a novel. However, life is familiar. If only allowed to produce work that was not "familiar," we would have no literature at all. I would rather that the "familiar" be embraced and the novel resonate beyond itself and intone the spheres of Plato or Beckett. Charlie P is familiar. The antihero of the title is actually a nonhero, for he does absolutely nothing and is an Everyman who, like all of us, is afraid to take risks. Charlie P, by taking none, lives no life at all. He achieves nothing. He thinks himself a great lover, yet never makes love. He fancies himself a great host, yet never invites guests. He imagines himself to be a great novelist, yet he relies heavily on pat phrases (one favorite, "needless to say," precedes the superfluous) and dozens of clichés (e.g. "a deer caught in the headlights" and "apple of his eye"). Even more egregious are incorrectly turned phrases ("suffice to say" rather than "suffice it to say") and misuses words ("his pecuniary nature" when he means "penurious"). Although "Charlie P has a novel in him," he also claims, "the novel is dead," which explains why he is merely "a dabbler in writing fiction." Charlie P is the Everyman who thinks he can write a novel but can't—a modern day Gordon Comstock, Orwell's famous antihero from Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a poet who never finds the time to write. Despite the dabblings of Charlie P, Richard Kalich succeeds in making the story of Everyloser interesting. The work resonates with allusions to other works about losers, including D. H. Lawrence's "Rocking-Horse Winner," Gogol's "The Nose," and Heinrich Mann's "Blue Angel." Under the care of physicians, Charlie dies a hundred deaths—burning, drowning, dismemberment, disease. The doctors he fervently believes in are as incompetent in medicine as he is at fiction: they attribute a case of lockjaw to ptomaine poisoning, for example. They are Everylosers, too. And when Charlie P smiles at the end, buried in his coffin face down, we smile with him because we're fellow losers.» - Eckhard Gerdes

«Sex addict, star athlete, scholar, lecturer, hopeless romantic, world traveler, prolific novelist, dreamer, lazy bum: the eponymous hero of Richard Kalich's high-octane comic novel is an ageless perpetual optimist whose extreme indecisiveness is the key to his immortality. As a boy, saddened by his father's death, Charlie P decides that by refusing to live his life he can grant himself eternal life. Realistically, however, he does plenty of living. He's cartoonishly hyperbolic in the most extraordinary sense: his superhuman feats and a semi-lack of chapter-to-chapter continuity make him an everyman more Bugs Bunny than Mr. Pickwick, as he doggedly pursues the love of a Bulgarian harpist much younger than he, searches frantically for his lost penis, chops down forests with one blow of his axe, and concocts increasingly mammoth excuses to avoid the pain of rejection.
Kalich's fine prose is the perfect mirror for Charlie P's varying mindsets: it swells with atmosphere and romance when Charlie goes on his first date; reduces to a clipped monotone when Charlie desperately searches his home for himself; and employs "big words" when the narrator attempts to explain Charlie's unreal actions and state of mind. Appropriately, man of Charlie P's thoughts, attitudes, and opinions can be reduced to bumper-sticker zingers or phrases seen on ironic t-shirts, as this often seems to be the depth of his thoughts. Hyperactive lists detail his accomplishments and actions, as when he woos the Bulgarian harpist in colossally wallet-busting form; or when Charlie decides to learn everything there is to know about women; or when he swears off women and tries to barricade his home so that "not the faintest scent of female flesh could seep in, nor, just as importantly, his own very masculine scent out."
Unlike those of the infamous doofus Svejk, Charlie's utterances of brilliance and astute insight are not the product of accident, but rather of acute self-awareness, as when he realizes that his only regret is that he "had to live his entire life not by himself, but with himself." At times like these, when the hyperactivity hits a trough, we realize that Charlie's cartoonish adventures have all been a prelude to his moments of shattering clarity. That may of us attain these same insights without having to undergo epic trials makes them all the more naked and cutting.
Like most good comic novelists, Kalich is adept at teetering on the precipice wherein he might decide to dilute the fun with the grim, creating that suspense where things might get really bad at any moment. In Charlie P he has crafted an extraordinary little novel and a memorable hero—a leader and kin to those afflicted with loneliness and the inability to get anything done.» - Scott Bryan Wilson

"It has been said for millennia that our exterior lives are mere shadows of what is truly real. Novelist Richard Kalich explores this idea quite originally in his second novel, Charlie P, published this year by the highly productive Green Integer Press. Kalich documents the life of an indefatigable everyman who struggles blithely to find contentment and leave his mark on the world. Without giving particulars as to geography, age, relatives, childhood background, education, or the like, Kalich constructs Charles P using chapters—or bursts—of exaggerations and absurd constructions in which Charlie P either proves himself a man hyperbolically, or experiences defeat in some drastic form.
The character somehow conveys a quality of being an iconographic blank, described as “all things to all people and nothing to himself.” He is also described as a man who (perhaps toward a purported existential rebellion) is quite unable to complete a task because that appears to him to be some kind of defeat. In this way, Kalich begins to convey the painful sadness of the life at hand—Charlie P suffers from an inability to inability to engage with life or complete his goals because, in the character’s perversion, he sees action as “giving in.”
Not that this narrative isn’t crazily hilarious. At the book’s beginning, Kalich conjures Charlie P in the imagery of a 1970s-ear swingin’ bachelor man: a misogynist due to his fear of women, yet equipped, perhaps, with a swank apartment and backlights, mirrors, and a wet bar to impress the babes. As the tale progresses, Charlie P’s thousandfold sexual conquests are, in action and trepidation notwithstanding, stacked up alongside his impossible accomplishments—among them, solving all global economic problems and becoming a religious messiah. Added to these items are Charlie P’s numerous physical mutilations, such as being disemboweled or losing his penis or, one day, having every bone in his body shattered. From all of these episodes Charlie P routinely returns to the narrative apparently unabashed, ready to move ahead to the next chapter of life, where is alternately “popular with the ladies” and alone and enfeeble. At one point, when Charlie P wants to know which woman really loves him, sex aside, and would break down the barriers to reach him,
'[h]e corked his bathroom walls. Insulated his entire apartment
with three-inch fiberglass. Then he got serious, building towering
turrets and spires, moats and drawbridges, ramparts and walls. He
even laid down landmines, barbed wire fences, set up machine gun

towers; a nuclear missile site…. Having made his home into a fortress,
if not a castle, he began working on himself. First, opening the windows
to air the rooms out, then hermetically sealing them shut so that the
faintest scent of female flesh could not seep in, nor, just as importantly,
his own very masculine scent out. Next, after plugging his nose and
stuffing his ears with wads of cotton, he turned down the Venetian blinds and blindfolded himself. He even had a doctor friend anaesthetize him….'
In addition to being funny, nutty, and playful, this is also a complex narrative about human self-esteem and the human sense of self in general. Kalich’s kooky, contradictory biographical map of Charlie P’s elaborate machinations in the world, his bizarre, colossal failures (which are described as inevitable), and his conviction that he must never even begin his life are correlates to the natural narcissistic struggles that most of us feel at a low level nearly every day. Human life’s endless ups and downs of loneliness, sensations of threat, violations, and pleasure are described in Charlie P’s eyes in an incredibly jumbled way, almost suggesting a developmental point of view; Charlie P’s journey is like an index of adult experience encoded to convey prelinguistic experience. He accomplishes everything; he accomplishes nothing; his sexual addiction causes him to bed hundreds of women daily; consequently, he is intimate with no one. Like a cueless tuning fork attracting the world’s chaos, Charlie P’s experiences are too intense:
'Before calling it a day Charlie P goes out for his evening job. In
the midst of his run, he stops to intervene in what appears to be a
friendly argument between two old friends. Instead of thank you’s, a
night cap or coffee and cake, he gets mugged, robbed, pummeled
and beaten; face bloody, reeling, comatose and in a stupor, he returns
home for a quiet evening by himself watching TV. But…and there’s
always a but…just when he’s comfortably snug under the covers, and
picks up his TV Guide to see what’s on, his glasses have disappeared.
By the time he finds them in the folds of his blanket, his movie has
ended, and he’s on his way to the bathroom, this time taking especial
care not to stub his toe or his head on the sink. But…and there’s always a but…he trips over his feet, slips on a bar of soap, and, falling down in the bathtub, he breaks his left hip and right arm. “Should have known better,” says Charlie P.'
With continuous comic exaggeration, Kalich describes the overwhelming, vertiginous, risky sensation of being alive—the very thing we seek, which is the very thing we fear.
The outcome of this primordial scenario is decidedly uncheery. Charlie P, in the end, is self-hating, regretful that he “has to live his entire life not by himself, but with himself.” He is, somehow, a horrendous nothing—despite being a world-famous writer, a stunning politician, a collector of women, an English-Channel swimmer, and a serious mountain climber. He is alone, and is the picture of self-hatred: “it is just those women who have scaled the heights who will never stoop low enough to be with him.”
This is an intriguing psychic landscape. Kalich successfully reproduces the sensation of existential indecision and doubt in all its intensity. He also creates a sweeping, near-mythic description of the self-dislike that some people, unfortunately, absorb during childhood. Charlie P illustrates the exhausting and often cruel experience of consciousness that lies behind the façade of exterior, everyday life.» - Stacey Levine
Richard Kalich, Penthouse F, Green Integer, 2010.

"A marvelous book. It manages to do with metafiction in a short novel what the great postmodernists like Coover and Barth take five or six hundred pages to do."

«In an era where literary fiction is a diminishing concern in everyday life, Penthouse F blurs the distinction between biography and fantasy, and turns the act of reading a novel into an investigation about the process of producing one's own reality. As a reality television predominates the landscape of popular culture, so too does Kalich's piece leave one puzzling as though on the terminator between light and dark, uncertain if such simple binaries as "night" and "day" or "fact" and "fiction" even have relevance in our world.
Kalich is able to make a pointed critical ethical examination of an increasingly passive generation not simply bearable, but delightful. The novel is frequently hilarious, populated with numerous character sketches that portray a substantial cross-section of American life with sensitivity and care. It repeatedly affirms the value of human connection, while cautioning against a delusion that the instantaneity of electronic media can replace the substantiality of genuine human relationships.» - Christopher Leise

«If one of the great European intransigents of the last century - say, Franz Kafka or Georges Bataille or Witold Gombrowicz - were around to write a novel about our era of reality tv and the precession of simulcra, the era of Big Brother and The Real World, what would it look like? Well, it might look like Richard Kalich's Penthouse F, a narrative of sexual (or is it aesthetic?) obsession and closed-circuit television, set in a recognizable twenty-first-century Manhattan but opening onto an interior space that both does and does not belong to our world - a space contiguous with those dark inner rooms that the European avant-gardists took us into. Right next door to Penthouse F is the closet where the whipper whips his perpetual victim in The Trial...
But why travel so far afield for analogues, when there are Americans closer to hand? This is the sort of novel that John Hawkes might have written if he had spent a few years obsessing about the obsolescence of literature and the tyranny of the Image - and if he'd reined in his baroque style and opted instead for the kind of deadpan mimicry of the everyday (with only occassional revelatory outbreaks) that characterizes Kalich's prose. Or this is the kind of novel that Ron Sukenick might have written, and in fact did write, in Blown Away - a dossier-novel, an archive of documents, some real, some faked, adding up (or not adding up, finally) to a reflection on the way we live now in the society of the spectacle. Or it's a novel of the kind that Mark Danielewski wrote in House of Leaves, and that Larry McCaffery calls avant-pop, avant garde invention grafted onto a pop-culture vehicle - here, an investigation in the familiar mode of a Law and Order episode - except that Kalich is spare where Danielewski is overblown, laconic where he is garrulous. Still, Kalich shares with Danielewski the effect of layering, of screens (cinematic, televisual, computer) intervening between us and the real, just as they also share a sense of the impenetrable darkness of the innermost recess. These novelists are unmistakably each other's contemporaries, and our contemporaries.
House of Leaves has sometimes been called a "cult novel," and I suppose that's what Penthouse F is likely to become, too. The term "cult novel" has negative connotations - of freakishness, obsession, clannishness - but as far as I can make out, a "cult-novel" is really only a novel that finds its own audience without that audience having been targeted by professional marketers. It's sort of novel that makes its way by word of mouth; copies get handed off from reader to reader; readers, without prompting, treat it is though it contained coded messages about their own lives. An earlier instance is Fowle's The Magus, a novel that (as I recall) really did get handed off from reader to reader, and that, long after it had slipped off the bestseller list, continued to enjoy a long afterlife of readership. Not incidentally, Penthouse F actually bears a family resemblance to The Magus. Both involve powerful mentor-figures who play a dangerous "god-game" with vulnerable proteges - or, maybe that's what happens; but maybe not. Here again,. however, Kalich's approach to this material is reticent and astringent, where Fowle's is chatty and lush; he holds back, where Fowles piles on.
Penthouse F differs from a cult novel like The Magus in one crucial respect: it makes no pretense of being good for you. This is not redemptive literature; it's not consoling or improving; in fact, it's downright unwholesome. If you want therapeutic fiction, then consult Oprah's selections; Penthouse F is not the book for you. and this, finally, more than any similarity of style or storyworld, is what constitutes Penthouse F's kinship with those instransigent avant-gardists of the last century - with Kafka or Bataille or Gombrowicz - or even with Sade himself, who is something like this novel's patron saint, presiding over its closed circuits and its vicious games. None of them promises to make you a better person, whatever that might mean; none of them will help you be a more loving parent or partner, or improve your health or sexual performance, or give a boost to your career, or make you feel better about yourself, or free you from the burdens of your past, or extend your life, or reconcile you with death, or save your soul. Not a one of them, Penthouse F included. sorry. They're just art, after all.» - Brian McHale

«A note to say that I've now read through PENTHOUSE F, which I very much enjoyed. I think it quite a marvelous book, and like the way in which you interweave the fictional and the (simulcra of the) actual in a way that makes it very hard to distinguish one from the other. It manages to do with metafiction in a short novel what the great postmodernists like Coover and Barth take five or six hundred pages to do. That's quite nicely done, and the interrogation/trial aspect of it is very nicely handled as well. I like, too, the way in which the cruelty/sadism that we see in the Nihilesthete begins to resurface here, the way in which the Dick Kalich of the book is both someone it's easy to be sympathetic with and someone who, as the piece progresses, seems to have taken his manipulations of the boy and girl (if there really were a boy and girl) in very dark directions.
In short, PENTHOUSE F strikes me as an eminently publishable book, one that is not only original and unique, but is also highly readable. Indeed, it seems to me that while the ideas behind the work are quite complex, the execution feels almost effortless - it's a real pleasure to read.
It's also a book that I'd be happy to write a blurb for once you have a publisher. Something along the lines of: "The boundaries between fiction and reality are first crossed, then crossed again, then completely rearranged in this slim but smart novel by the author of CHARLIE P. and THE NIHILESTHETE, and the results are at once morbidly entrancing (in the vein of A.M. Holmes The end of Alice) and thought-provoking. A wonderful book." - Brian Evenson

How to Fail (at) Fiction and Influence Everybody: A Review of Penthouse-F by Richard Kalich Christopher Leise


Richard Kalich, The Zoo, Publish America, 2001.

«This is the darkly comic story of Wise Old Owl and his attempts to animalize Animal World. They have an all too familiar ring to our own human history. Joining forces with Muerte Buzzard, Sly Fox and Michael Ferret, a Zoo is built to "zoo-in" all those animals deemed responsible for the world’s plight. First zoo’d are those animals who look different. Followed by artists and thinkers. Especially dangerous are animals possessing an inner life. It’s not long before the entire population is at risk.

«Then, some of the more courageous animals rebel. They call upon the two-faced Ferret to organize a Revolutionary Army with the guru Polly Parrot at the lead. But here the novel takes an unexpected turn.» - Publishers Weekly

«Awkwardly patterned after Orwell's Animal Farm, The Zoo, a dystopian second novel by Richard Kalich (appearing 15 years after his first, the well-received Nihilesthete), puts half-baked socioeconomic rants into the mouths of animal characters. Headed by Wise Old Owl, a triumvirate of revolutionaries put Animal World on trial, casting any animals who develop "inner lives," or human-type thinking, into the dreaded Zoo. Muddled and meandering, this menagerie will test readers' patience.
With a debt to his spiritual fathers, Orwell and Swift, Richard Kalich brings us The Zoo - the darkly comic allegory of Wise Old Owl's attempt to animalize Animal World. The story unfolds with a chilling and all too familiar ring to our own human history. Joining forces with the likes of Muerte Buzzard, Sly fox, and Michael Ferret, Wise Old Owl builds a zoo to 'zoo-in' those animals deemed responsible for the world's plight. First zoo'd are those animals who look different. Followed by artists and thinkers. Especially dangerous are animals possessing an inner life. It's not long before the entire population is at risk.
Some of the more courageous animals rebel. They call upon the two-faced ferret to organize a revolutionary army with the guru, Polly Parrot, at the lead. But here the novel takes an unexpected turn.
Displaying a talent for fantasy and allegory that is endlessly inventive, funny and savage, by the story's end, Kalich has, with a master satirist's razor-sharp teeth, picked clean Owl's oppressive regime, leaving it bereft of reason, purpose, and sanity.»

"The Zoo starts where Animal Farm leaves off."- Velon Shuzkeil

"Kalich has written the definitive novel on the stupidity of intolerance"- Marion Boyars
Richard Kalich, The Nihilesthete, The Permanent Press, 1987.

«In this suffocatingly gloomy first novel, Haberman, a social caseworker based in Harlem, morbidly attaches himself to one of his wards: Brodski, a hideously deformed quadriplegic whose speech consists of garbled sounds. Somehow Haberman, a man in his mid-50s who once may have entertained the notion of becoming an artist, senses that Brodski is an incipient painter and makes it the mission of his desolate life to help the quadriplegic realize his ambition. Equipped with all sorts of prosthetic devices, Brodski paints magnificentlyin the style, we are solemnly informed, of abstract expressionism, or primitive minimalism, where "less is more.'' But despite his initial good will, Haberman is driven by malign jealousy to deprive his protege of everything that makes life bearable. This parable of art and the forces that seek to destroy it is so static and literal minded that the reader is not so much harrowed as oppressed by its grim story.» - Publishers Weekly

"THE NIHILESTHETE speaks with singular honesty, power and eloquence about our spiritually diminished modern world and is as important and original a novel to have been written by an American author in a generation."- Mid-American Review

"THE NIHILESTHETE cannot be put down once contact is made. In the tradition of Notes from the Underground, The Metamorphosis, and The Caseworker, THE NIHILESTHETE is a journey into the encyclopedia of lost souls. It is a brilliant, hammer-hitting, lights-out novel."- Los Angeles Times

"...Compelling, hard to abandon once begun, but also troubling. That is, I wondered what it was that was compelling to me - not the characters, certainly. Probably the philosophical drama itself, which Kalich found a way to make visceral. A book one would finally - oddly - call uplifting"- Sven Birkerts

"A remarkable novel...in some ways more than remarkable. I especially admire the way in which Kalich hews to its pretty grim narrative line. It reminds me of George Konrad's THE CASEWORKER, a Hungarian novel that received a lot of attention here a few years ago. In fact, it starts where The Caseworker ends."- Ted Solotaroff

"...a parable about mediocrity versus talent. ...a breakthrough and new pathological version in a literary form... Philosophical sadism."- Von Belgian TV

"The Nihilesthete is the worst novel I have ever read. Then why read it? Because you can't put the book down. The book is fascinating and exciting and it makes the reader constantly think about what comes next. I was as much fascinated by the author's style as by his story. Because it is written in short paragraphs, it makes the reader want one more and then one more before putting the book down. The author, Richard Kalich, is welcome to continue writing. His Nihilesthete is a black, juicy and absurd book. Congratulations to a great author and a great book." - Aslborg Stiffslidende

"Disgust is the first feeling. Next comes skepticism, surprise, interest and maybe even fascination. The Nihilesthete is terrifying but beneath its surface lies a deep romantic celebration to the genius of the artist. In this stinging mixture of urine, stool, neglect and destruction Kalich forms a wonderful art which shows the eternal to be living in the present."- Me Lund

"Have never read such a terrifying book. The author, Richard Kalich, makes his debut novel devilish and terrifying. The storyline has strong parallels to the Nazi holocaust. There is good reason to warn readers that they must have nerves of steel."- Jyllands Posten

"Kalich has written the definitive allegory of the late eighties about life in the 20th century and, en passant, a fulminating thriller full of psychological shockwaves. This is the most breathtaking debut since Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughter about crazyness, absurdity and madness."- Tips Bielefield

"This book transgresses borders and breaks taboos and here in our old world culture that has given us DeSade and Kafka is bound to be well received and more importantly understood."- Soester Anzeiger

"Richard Kalich can speak and write and judging by his first book he is undoubtedly crazy. No. Better his book is crazy. Mad. In the original sense of the word. Mad meaning original. Kalich's brutal book puts salt on the wound. This is not an easy thing to accomplish but the reader is grateful to Kalich for doing it."- Tagesspiegel

"THE NIHILESTHETE is one of those brilliant grotesqueries that illuminate the human condition. The writing is superb and forces one along at a tremendous pace, so that it is almost impossible to put down.- Tobias Scheneebaum

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  1. Great post! Here is Richard Kalichs official Facebook Page "like" it and send it to your friends
    http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=897#!/pages/New-York-NY/Richard-Kalich/199742073393173

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