THE NIHILESTHETE by Richard Kalich


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Tedious, extremely predictable Kafkaesque exercise in which an alienated social worker fails to destroy a retarded cripple's love of beauty. How alienated is he? Well, Robert Haberman never does turn into a giant cockroach, but he does say things like: ""It is not being alone but being with ourselves that is the killer. An entire metaphysic of distraction has evolved to stave off this terminal disease."" Haberman is a middle-aged employee of New York's Department of Social Services, working out of the Harlem office, unloved by his boss or fellow caseworkers. Eventually, though, he finds a focus for his desperate cynicism and misanthropy in a 24-year-old limbless, ""low-grade' idiot named Brodski, who lives in a Harlem apartment with his mother. Haberman takes over Brodski's case, and at first brings welcome changes to the young man's life--money from social services, fresh-air outings, etc. But soon Haberman realizes that Brodski is enamored of anything artistic and in fact longs in his primitive way to become an artist himself. Haberman thus begins a sadistic game, attaching prostheses to Brodski and allowing him to paint canvas after canvas, but then taking away his materials--and even his prostheses--in order to rob Brodski of his one enjoyment in life. In the end, however, the retarded man triumphs--when the by-now demented Haberman realizes that the gleeful Brodski is painting happily away in his head. (""NOOOOOOOOoooooooo!!!"" screams Haberman). A first novel that reads, unfortunately, like a Classics Comic Book version of Eastern European modernism.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1987
Publisher: Permanent Press