by Steve Penn
[ bookreviews ]
Like watching a slug treated with salt, this book has a compelling edge that does nothing to conceal its inherent nastiness. Pretty much everything and everybody in the novel is in some way mutilated either mentally, emotionally or physically. The "hero", Franz Polzer, is an obsessive with extreme paranoid tendencies and a family history Freud could write whole books about. His "friend", Karl, is a collapsing ruin of a paraplegic who spouts hate whilst enthroned in an old chair. In fact, Karl is just one of Polzer's truly screwed-up acquaintances, in a life that is flatly horrific. Franz tries to bind it all together through the obsessive imposition of order, a quest that finds its most perfect outlet in his work as a bank clerk and is mirrored in Ungar's prose. The whole book is written with a total lack of passion that enhances the monstrousness of what is occurring. Matter-of-fact descriptions flow from diseases of mind and body to wondering about the quality of a coat. Polzer's is a world so devoid of love and beauty that ugliness is no longer worthy of comment.
Ungar leads the reader through a maze of the foul, a catalogue of human failings, then pulls the plug with a rumbling inevitability. It can't really be described as a downward spiral, more a steady progress. Nobody could really drop any further, but they lose any misgivings about being so low. People do not become beasts: they just acknowledge that they are beasts. Each character, from the sexually excessive widow Frau Bolger to the monstrous butcher Sonntag, shows the fall of community in favour of personal gain. Even nurses are shown to be self-motivated. This is not a cheerful book.
It is good though, and I devoured it at great speed. Like Beckett's 'Endgame', the worst aspects of humanity are explored in a domestic setting, and like that play there is a degree of humour in the sludge. Particularly funny is the utter paranoia shown by Polzer as he considers his new suit. Unlike 'Endgame', there is no sense that anyone actually likes each other, except perhaps in the character of Dora, a girl denied even the role of martyr. There is no charity, no kindness without strings. Everyone is shown as so much meat, waiting to die. I actually enjoyed it, as I have stated, but to say why would spoil the plot. If I were you I'd go out and read 'The Maimed', but don't do it if your girlfriend just left you, your credit card debt just came through, or your rabbit just went to the big hutch in the sky. You might not like it.