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Richard Kalich. Charlie P.

Richard Kalich. Charlie P. Green Integer, 2005. 240 pp. Paper: $12.95.

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 cliches (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 misused 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 at 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]
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Author:Gerdes, Eckhard
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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