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Kalich delivers a fresh, relevant, and enticingly readable work of metafiction. Akin to the best work of Paul Auster.
- Trevor Dodge, American Book Review, January/February 2013
Richard Kalich's extraordinary new novel is a work concerned with the writing life, but it is also much more. A brilliant metafiction that deals with issues of great import to our post-postmodern age. This is an important work that deserves to be read by everyone interested in serious fiction.
- Marc Lowe, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 2011
Richard Kalich's newest novel is hilarious for being the most piquant appropriator of absurdism... Kalich has succeeded in consistently producing perplexing fictions that fail to categorize themselves and escape the warping influence of authorial intent.
- Christopher Leise, Electronic Book Review
This book is of the kind that once you start you just want to keep reading both to find out what happens, and in this case, the strange way it makes what happens work. I’ve since bought everything else by Kalich I can find (nameably The Nihilesthete (1987) & The Zoo (2001) & Charlie P (2005)). This is a book, a body of work, an author, deserving a new unearthing eye.
- Blake Butler, HTMLGIANT Reviews
Richard Kalich's third novel pushes all the buttons a good whodunit novel ought to push - it’s enthralling, intriguing and tense throughout. Penthouse F is a baffling, intricate and accomplished work of meta-fiction, exploring themes of cruelty, obsession, the cult of observation and the greasy, perforated, un-ironed linen skin between fiction and reality... Thrilling and confusing in equal measure, Penthouse F is an important book that dismantles the reader, leaving you in fragmented bits and pieces like the barbed clips that make up the novel’s structure.
- Colin Herd, 3:AM Magazine
WORLD LITERATURE IN REVIEW - MARCH/APRIL 2011
The protagonist of this novel, one "Richard Kalich," is a man of letters whose interest in literature has waned. Twenty-five years ago, he tried to write a novel, entitled Transfiguration of the Commonplace, but found himself unequal to the task. Since that time, he has lived in an increasingly vegetative state, a state relieved only when a boy and a girl, fictional characters in that aborted novel, move into his apartment. Such a deliciously metaleptic moment cannot last, of course. A double suicide punctuates it, and "Kalich" stands accused of having pushed the young couple to their deaths, either literally or figuratively. The text is structured as an interrogation, a topos so broadly exploited in contemporary literature, from Kafka to Volodine, that it is now ripe for parody. Readers will quickly recognize, too, a meditation on the relations of fiction and reality, wherein the boundaries separating those regimes are deliberately and consistently blurred. Has fiction come to life here, or has life come to fiction? Indeed, do those questions make any sense at all, in a world where those two ways of being are so closely reciprocal?
Whereas "Richard Kalich," the author of Penthouse F, is canny and wily, "Richard Kalich" the character is far more naive, and that ironic tension is the source of a good deal of fun here. The former plays the latter in a metafictional game whose stake is the novel itself. It is a game wherein "everything is still very much open to interpretation," a hall of mirrors in which we readers constantly confront carnivalized images of our own readerly inferences, as if each interpretive path we might be tempted to blaze had been very largely anticipated and turned back upon itself. Ghosts haunt this book from first page to last: Dostoevsky, Mallarme, Kafka, Mann, Camus, Pessoa, Gombrowicz--and, oh yes, most perniciously of all, "Kalich." For he is a man who tortures himself both with the novels that he has written and with those that he has not. Let us forgive him even if he will not forgive himself, recognizing as we do the one truth of this tale that seems to be beyond doubt: "It was all in his head like everything else about him."
World Literature Today
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
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 as 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
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, is
an American literary theorist, a seminal critical figure in
post-modern studies, author of Postmodernist Fiction (1987),
Constructing Post-Modernism (1992), and The Obligation Toward
the Difficult Whole (2004).
I'd mention as well RICHARD KALICH, whose PENTHOUSE F offers a series of fragments and notes, an interrogation, thoughts, etc., concerning a writer named Richard Kalich and his possible role in the suicide of a young man and a young woman. What's removed here, among other things, is a sense of divisions: Kalich (both Kalich the character and Kalich the writer) doesn't make a distinction between
a book and the notes leading up to book, and does away with (paradoxically enough, this is partly through the addition of the author's name) the distinctions between life and fiction. The boy and girl remain deliberately unnamed, a gesture that keeps them hesitating between existing and not existing (as the notes of Kalich's "unwritten"
novel suggest: "Had he imagined the boy and girl? Was his encounter with them a fiction? Were they even real..." This ultimately touches on what is at the heart of all subtractions and all blurring of distinctions within this particular aesthetic mode: what is being taken away is stability and certainty. If a game is being played, it is a game which at its core is about the potential dissolution of reality altogether.
Brian Evenson, Online Literarture from Dzanc Books Saturday
(May l4, 20ll) - THE COLLAGIST