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Penthouse F

Richard Kalich

SALE PRICE: U.S. $9.95
Richard Kalich
Penthouse F
Series No.: 179
ISBN: 978-1-55713-413-4, Pages: 227
American Literature, Fiction

Penthouse F takes the form of an inquiry into the suicide, which may or may not be a murder, of a young boy and girl who took up residence in the protagonist/Author's (of the same name, Richard Kalich) apartment in Manhattan. Using the interrogations of various figures in the fictional Kalich's life, as well as the protagonist's own philosophical musings, personal documents, and notes on a novel-in-progress, the story of the pair's end unfolds, becoming more real and more suspect. At the center of this interrogation looms the question: is Kalich responsible? As Brian McHale has written of this fiction, "Right next door to Penthouse F is the closet where the whipper whips his perpetual victim in Kafka's 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. ...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." In this definitive fiction of our time, the internationally acclaimed award-winning novelist, Richard Kalich, is able to undertake a pointed critical examination of an increasingly voyeuristic generation while cautioning against the delusion that the instantaneousness of electronic media can replace the substantiality of genuine human relationship.

Also by Richard Kalich:
Charlie P, $9.95
The Assisted Living Facility Library (hardcover), $19.95

Book Review(s)

AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW, January/February 2013

by Trevor Dodge


In Mulligan Stew (1979), Gilbert Sorrentino shows us what happens when characters inside a novel become aware of their desperate situations over which they have no control because they are effectively being puppeted by the author. What ensues is a rhetorical reversal not unlike George Orwell's revolt among the pigs in Animal Farm (1945), wherein the authority traditionally vested in authorship is subverted; the characters refuse to accept their stations and begin writing themselves a new world while the author sleeps.

In his fifth novel, Penthouse F, Richard Kalich takes on complex rhetorical gymnastics that immutably blend fact and fiction, forcing the reader to become an active participant in the search for meaning in the novel's central mystery. In Penthouse F, Richard Kalich is an author writing a new novel that he will never finish, featuring a young boy and girl who have apparently succeeded in a quasi-Shakespearean dual suicide before very much of their story can be told by Kalich. Penthouse F structures itself not as the Freytagian rise and fall of a traditional plot, but as a criminal investigation that takes the shape of a series of interviews. The interviews are conducted by an unnamed reader referred to as "The Interrogator," who feels compelled to discover what happened to the boy and girl in an effort to piece together the story of these characters that Kalich either cannot or will not tell. The result is a snaking narrative wherein the reader attempts to paste together the author's connection to his subject and characters, routinely uncovering far more questions than answers.

All of the above mark Penthouse F as a work of metafiction in the most obvious of senses, but it would be a mistake to write off Kalich's novel as obvious in any way: where the hallmark works of metafiction are historically maximalist and tend to channel James Joyce in both their language play and difficulty, Penthouse F is trim and akin to the best work of Paul Auster in terms of its readability without sacrificing its intelligence of experiment. While it is tempting to juxtapose Kalich with Sorrentino, or even Flann O'Brien, the best fit would likely be Auster particularly City of Glass (1985). Kalich and Auster share not only a similar, sincere trust in the detective story to carry their complex meditations, but also a kinship in their concerns about the ability of language and narrative to shape both past and present. Both authors' trust in their respective readers' abilities to not just passively follow along with the narrative but to assist in its very making is immediate, sustained, and earnest.

Like Auster, Kalich uses a first-person perspective that is confessional without sounding corny, and self-referential without coming across as smarmy. "After all, a writer can only write his book," Penthouse F's narrator explains to Kalich-as-character. "It takes others to interpret it."

Where meditations on the writing life were largely peripheral in a previous generation, and used in most circumstances to problematize the relationships between author and the craft of storytelling (remember: Sorrentino's oft-repeated "Plots are absurd"), in Penthouse F, Kalich puts the writing life front and center. As the investigation continues to recycle its questions about the whereabouts of the fictional boy and girl characters of a novel-never-written, the novel that is written here features voices from the novelist's life -- former girlfriends, doormen, literary agents, editors -- which derail the investigation at every turn, frequently to strong comic effect. "How many times are you going to persist in asking the same question?" Kalich-as-character asks The Interrogator, who quickly and flatly returns fire: "How many times are you going to persist in giving the same answer?"

The faith and trust instill


by Marc Lowe

Richard Kalich's extraordinary new novel, Penthouse F, is a work concerned with the writing life, but it is also much more. The book opens with typed-out notes, blemishes and all, from an unfinished novel to have been entitled Transfiguration of the Commonplace, and it ends with "notes" for a possible ending to both the unfinished work and to the novel the reader is holding in his or her hands: Penthouse F. Not only is the novel a brilliant metafiction, it also deals with issues of great import to our post-postmodern age. Kalich asks what about our contemporary, plugged-in world we can actually consider "real," then plays with this question skillfully in many different ways throughout the text, simultaneously reassuring and confusing his readers, keeping things at all times both entertaining and thought-provoking. For instance, the narrator-protagonist shares the same name as its author; he, too, is a writer who lives in New York, has a twin brother, and so on. The line between "fact" and "fiction" is thus distorted beyond recognition, leaving the reader to question what is meant to be taken as "real," and what is not. The central boy and girl characters -- they are not given proper names -- whom Kalich the narrator keeps holed-up in his penthouse and safely, if perversely, watches from a distance on a television monitor, would seem to represent that which is not real, a simulacrum of the real (interestingly, although Kalich the narrator subjects the boy and girl to various sadistic trials, he never lays a single finger on either of them, as if touch were impossible in his virtual world). The innovative, fragmentary structure of the novel reminds one of "channel surfing" or "surfing the Web," reflecting and refracting its content. This is an important work that deserves to be read by everyone interested in serious fiction.


by George Salis

"Central Park West Trilogy and The Assisted Living Facility Library by Richard Kalich"

Penthouse F is Kalich’s most metafictional novel, seeing as it’s about his struggles as an artist to write a novel, leading him to concoct a Mengelian experiment in the vein of Haberman to help him overcome that writer’s block as if the reality in his fiction is more real than the fiction proper. And that’s the thing, one of the main themes of this novel is the porous boundaries of art and life.... READ MORE

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