Jerzy Kosinski's novels lie in the area between the post-war European emotional lucidity and the hip coolness of American mid-generation. His is a non-judgmental, morally permissive fiction, in which action is meant not as salvation, but as making the most of life. In Kosinski's novels, man does not have a character by which he is doomed; he adjusts himself to reality by denying his civilized self and his moral judgment. He forms a personality-free character in a personality-free world.
Kosinski's novels are agitated, ghoulish yarns, told in dispassionate, icy language. They are void of realistic linearity and of emotional temperature. The untitled "chapters" form the unconnected units of narration, space and time are fragmented, little actions follow like digressions, the plotless plot converges rather than continues; words do not burn, as in passionate texts, but are lucid and conniving.
Kosinski's characterless characters have no fixed personalities, yet they do have consistent ego. Like a Pirandellian hero (it was Pirandello who finally got rid of characters, as Joyce did away with recognizably continuous storytelling), the Kosinski protagonist exists from moment to moment. Continually creating himself anew, he never achieves a solidified, hard-core reality of a continuous hero. The story line is the unfinished and unfinishable business of life; thus, it is not accidental that every novel ends inconclusively, with the hero looking out of the window into future spaces.
The narrator/hero appears incognito, blending into other characters, playing in different episodes, enacting the roles of cool manipulators and merciless executioners. His victims are men and women who are thoughtless. Men, totally unmotivated, seek murder. Women, mostly nameless and undefinable, "characterize" themselves by the sexual features of their bodies: glimpses of bare arms, curving thighs, long necks, and sleeveless blouses. They are punished accordingly: caged, abused, raped. Group rape is a frequent device. Protagonists occupy themselves by abruptly slipping into a woman, or literally forcing her open by surprise and blackmail.
Kosinski's first novel (not counting two other works of fiction written under a different name), The Painted Bird, is a parable of a young boy's initiation into evil—he is learning the experience of violence as the all-pervading source of human energy. (pp. 13-14)
The ceaseless monologue in the boy's unaffected language underscores the gruesome, unrelieved instances of human bestiality with the naivete of non-judgmental, heightened realism. In the last section of the book, the boy learns to accept violence as rightful, and desires to identify with the executors of brute force. The Nazi officer with "the smooth, polished skin, bright golden hair and pure mental eyes" and the ballad-singing Red Army comrades become the objects of his admiration…. Having become mentally and physically strengthened by evil, the boy, who had literally lost his speech, regains it on the last page of the book. (pp. 15-16)
While "the other" in The Painted Bird presented the world of a child-victim mutely asking for compassion, Steps, Being There, The Devil Tree, and Cockpit turn to the consistent narrative told by a perpetrator of evil: an addict of violence, a picaro, a sexual outlaw, or a psychopath. In later novels, Kosinski refuses the victimology inherent in The Painted Bird —victims are as evil as criminals. The new "I" narrator is a Nietzschean sinless, aggressive man, acting out of his strangeness (not understood by society) and releasing it in violence. To him, anything is better than stillness. Instead of burying himself alive in neurosis, instead of committing a crime against himself—"a crime" of introspection or self-analysis, Kosinski's protagonist assumes the kingly glory of a criminal. Penetrating the interior from the outside, the hero/narrator merely...
(This entire section contains 2391 words.)
acts. (Meursault in Camus'Stranger also saw himself only to the extent to which others saw him acting). The irony of this technique is that the "I" narrator, who has been traditionally employed in introspective and speculative texts for the purpose of self-revelation, does not reveal himself to the reader. Thus pointing out the fallacy of introspection, Kosinski demonstrates man's unfathomable, disintegrated nature. (p. 16)
Violence and vengeance, sex and death, power and submission are the essential human ties within the godless and humanless macrocosm of Steps. The neutrally human male is a vagrant, going from place to place, accidentally meeting women, having accidental affairs, and doing away with accidentally chosen victims. He acts like some kind of destructive, fallen angel, if one can conceive of any motivation. Most of the time, however, he is presented as totally impersonal, a thing acting upon a thing. (p. 17)
The acts of coercion and their motions are conveyed through verbs that Kosinski seems to have mastered nearly as well as Ernest Hemingway, but they are employed for very different effects. While Hemingway turned the action of doing ordinary things into a sacred ritual, where even the dinner table or a ship deck became an altar of sacrifice for some unseen gods, the Kosinski protagonist performs the spasms and moans of lovemaking and dying, some kind of dance macabre, a desperate effort of shouting out motion instead of creating emotion. He can never accept death as a necessary pact with nature, an exchange for the gift of life. That is why his deaths are never beautiful: they are not the ordered deaths of the hunted or the hunters, but chilly executions performed by psychopaths for whom only violence can restore their suppleness and vitality. The love acts are, accordingly, not relationships, based on attraction, but the perversions of those who became intimidated about love by rape….
It seems that Kosinski's manner of externalized action has more to do with the language of the movies as adapted by some of our contemporary writers who offer their readers only what is graspable through the cinematic shortcuts to character motivation and the execution of justice. The novel Steps seems to reinforce a 'historical' step taken by director Arthur Penn in the film Bonnie and Clyde (1967), that of elongating the violent, jerky spasms of violence into visual, ballet-like sequences. There has since been, both in films and literature, the determination to show the convulsion, rather than to present the problem. The response the artist expects is that of disinterested curiosity, like the activity of watching a cockroach kicking off its legs under the influence of an insecticide; the consciousness of the character is the consciousness of a creature in convulsion—it expresses the convulsion, the retching, and no more than that. (p. 18)
The occupation of watching, the faculty of voyeurism, takes the form of a major thematic conception in Kosinski's next book, Being There (1970). The novel presents a personable simpleton, called Chance, only a degree removed from caricature. He is a nonentity who achieves eminence and gains political stature by being mistaken for a genius….
In this novel, Kosinski's predilection for the unusual creates a metaphor of American success. On the social level, the novel is a spoof of fame and limitless opportunities arriving instantly for a man whose education has been drawn from relentless television viewing and cultivating his garden. Equipped with an unaffected, naturally poetic perception of reality, Chance disrupts the medium of static, garbled political oration; his words are quoted and applauded internationally, and he is on his way to a spectacular corporate career. The real preoccupation of the book, though, is the presentation of a human puppet who totally identifies himself with the dictates of the media. But here the satirical dimensions of the novel stop. What seems to intrigue the author more is the ungraspable and uncommunicable essence of man. The symbolic use of television is all-important: seeing is all "the other" knows and wants to know about "you." By the same token, it is all "you" want the other to know in order to stay safe. (p. 19)
The irony inherent in Being There is that the author blames Chance for being a mass product, a character whose banality is only an illusion of impenetrability, but, at the same time, all he provides for the reader is exactly the flat TV screen image…. The Kosinski narrator, through whose camera-like eyes the reader observes the world, knows little beyond what is registered on the lens.
The obsession with personal unknowability reappears in The Devil Tree (1973). (p. 20)
In Kosinski's usual manner, letters and conversations, without transitions or quotation marks, are interspersed at random. Different voices speak them, as the author changes the point-of-view from a first-person narrator to the third person. What emerges through the mosaic of the adventurous, swift episodes is a portrait of a young man perplexed by wealth and his hippie philosophy, but unable to enjoy either…. Truer in social reality than Steps, this novel also reveals more insight into the notoriously "unwashed soul" of a Kosinski character. (pp. 20-1)
The calculated adolescent tricks of watching the "other tumble down" and the role-playing devices aimed at threatening others because of one's boredom and restlessness are, in The Devil Tree, balanced by statements that are not just evil responses to the experienced hurts and injustices. The novel conveys some genuine interest in what makes the exiled soul tick and some material that goes beyond the merely destructive energy of Steps. As a matter of fact, the novel resembles the tangled branches of the baobab—the devil tree of the title—the tree condemned to live an underground life of abiding darkness….
As if afraid of exposing his humanity too extensively, in Cockpit (1975) the Kosinski protagonist retreats to his quintessential defenses: sneaky, vile and controlled, he commits violent acts without giving access to the violent emotions behind them. (p. 21)
Role-playing in literature has become a sanctified means of redeeming existence from absurdity. By reversing vices and virtues, by becoming a murderous imitation of an all-powerful God, by pursuing evil instead of evil pursuing him, Tarden [the protagonist] seems to embrace the other Lucifers of modern literature, the "Caligulas" who want to achieve responsibility for the anarchy of existence. But Kosinski's fallen angel is not paying for his knowledge from the tree of evil; the assumptions of absurdity are thus strained. Does he at least learn anything in the process of his evil commitment? He does not. Shifting from one moral stand to another, Tarden perpetuates good and evil alike. (p. 22)
In The Painted Bird, the boy was the victim of the village peasants and their witchcraft rituals. [In Cockpit] the adult assumes the role of sorcerer who shapes the destinies of the others with a touch of his magic rod. But why is the sorcery of The Painted Bird more persuasive than its modern American equivalent in Cockpit? Precisely because the former was rooted in folk superstition and natural phenomena, such as rainbows, birds' nests, rat meals, medicinal knowledge about herbs, and the peasants' appeasement of nature by their bloody rituals. The Painted Bird, with its overtones of myth, totem and taboo, suggests a religious violence, justified by ignorance and superstition. It is as beautiful as a naive, primitive painting, and linked to the cosmos by the fear and reverence of the maleficent powers of nature. In the later novels, the Kosinski protagonist appears armed with tape recorders, electronic doors, needles and radar, the weapons of modern heaven-hell. By these means he distributes death and inflicts torture, destroying incompetent foes for the appeasement of his "existential" identity. The actions performed for self-preservation by the boy's oppressors in The Painted Bird become in subsequent novels a celebration of malice on an organized, calculated footing. The only justification for evil is its irrationality. (pp. 22-3)
The purpose of the literature of evil has always been, if not inverted morality, at least utmost honesty. "A little of 'confessed' evil saves one from acknowledging a lot of hidden evil," says Roland Barthes in Mythologies. Celine, Gide and Genet were all tireless in presenting all truths—they did not stop at any truth. But they did not omit the torment of evil, the anguish of the sinner's excommunication. The Kosinski of the latest books offers a series of profane snapshots, told in a skimpy, conniving style, and supplying information typical of police and psychiatric files. His intense interest in violence is not accompanied by suffering, that poetry of violence.
As a "vile" Romantic, already acknowledged as a legitimate character of many authors who have declared war on the bourgeoisie, Kosinski is entitled to a denial of tragedy and suffering as useless; the best writers did that. Even Brecht in his Marxist period did not postulate that the conflict of the diseased business ethics of our times and decayed Christian morality was reconcilable through sacrifice. But he convinced us of the existence of a connection between people that goes beyond guilt, by the creation of vivid realities and vivid characters. The writers of the massive masterpieces, such as Balzac, Tolstoy or Melville, as well as authors of existential works such as Camus or Mailer, fleshed out the dangerous realities of consciousness and conscience. They created live people out of the dead matrix of words, endowed them with affective life, supplied them with gestures of desire. Without desire, without ecstasy, without failure purified in death (the death of the rebel, as well as his victim), the literature of cruelty does not restore the reader or renew society's vision. The most nihilistic texts, brimming over with lacerating despair and rage, were informed by emotional fullness. Even when nothing could satisfy the desire, the repetitious pattern of desire sustained the life of the characters, the life of the novels. (pp. 23-4)
[Kosinski's] animated strips contain no emotional coloring except the audacity of aberration and gratification not preceded by desire. They produce a dehydrated, short-lived "theatre," the sadistic peep show, a self-annihilating bluff—in other words, the squalor not transformed into art. From the author of The Painted Bird, a work of narrative density and fiercely exaggerated but poignant imagery of desperation one expects a deeper plunge into the heart of darkness. One wants the artist who both shows and sees. There is a great deal of intuition in presenting the character totally from the outside, as unmotivated and disturbingly unknown to us. That is deeper and deeper. But making him too peculiar, too acrobatic and contorted, means shallower and shallower. Even evil has to be believable. (p. 24)
Krystyna Prendowska, "Jerzy Kosinski: A Literature of Contortions," in The Journal of Narrative Technique (copyright © 1978 by The Journal of Narrative Technique), Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 11-25.
The heroes of [Kosinski's] novels are lonely and anonymous men, outsiders, never with an everyday profession. In Blind Date, the hero was called Levanter; in Passion Play, Fabian. These men have colorless stage names and they themselves are almost indistinguishable from one another. They are usually refugees or escapees from Eastern Europe….
Many authors keep such a distance from their books that it would be improper to look for a link between them and their protagonists. Not so with Kosinski. His novels are personal accusatory statements, and he clearly wants us to draw no line between his own reality and that of his fiction. In fact, it would be hard for him to hide behind the concept of "fiction," for his novels cry out, "This is how the world looks, and I am the sworn witness to the truth of it." (p. 216)
The Painted Bird, which established his name, is different from the later novels in that its hero is the child, not the man; but the child, too, is lonely, an outsider, anonymous. Describing a childhood in German-occupied Poland, the novel builds a platform from which the later novels took off. I don't doubt that it created the stir it did because so many Americans considered it their first real insight into life in Europe during World War II. In the same way, his following novels appeared to give readers here a shockingly direct feel of life under Communism or state socialism, the more convincing since Kosinski never tried to contrast his view with pleasant images from the West…. In the United States as in Eastern Europe, Kosinski's characters move from one grotesque catastrophe to another.
Having lived under a German occupation myself, I have always been intensely uncomfortable with the images in The Painted Bird. In his new introduction, Kosinski writes that its critics felt it was too violent. That, assuredly, was not my objection. On the contrary, in my experience the violence was even more pervasive, but it was also less dramatic, less "American." To give an example, in The Painted Bird the Polish peasants perpetrate acts of the most cruel sexual sadism; it is as if the violence of the Germans conjures up a sexual violence among their victims. But in reality, the German violence was all tangled up with daily degradations and, more important, with hunger and cold. It did not engender sadism but sexlessness. Men and women, perpetually humiliated, aware of their physical being in a negative way only, had little interest in their own or others' bodies, or in any appetite but for food. (pp. 216-17)
Kosinski's heroes function as faultlessly as Mission Impossible agents or (joyless) James Bonds, whether murdering without leaving a trace, or outwitting the bureaucracies of Eastern Europe. Their setting is not the natural world, where plans go awry and people do the unexpected, but a mechanical one where every action leads to a foreseeable reaction.
Kosinski's missions impossible are performed in the name of a general "getting even." They are of obsessive intensity even when the opponents seem unworthy of such ire…. These are acts of vengeance by knights who perceive not Love but Evil behind each blade of grass.
I use the word "knights" advisedly, for that is how Kosinski would have us see his protagonists. Passion Play at times seems written for no other purpose but to hammer this home. Its hero is a wandering polo player—perversely, while most Kosinski heroes are very rich, this is a poor polo player, making his living as a trainer while driving around the United States in a mobile home with a horse trailer. Again and again the fully equipped polo player on his pony, holding his mallet, is made to conjure up the knight in armor, charging with tilted lance. The enemy is less visible this time; this knight Fabian doesn't tilt at Communist bureaucracy and its minions but at what he calls "the group code," an anti-individualistic perversion of freedom…. He, like Kosinski's previous heroes, lacks one quality among his innumerable accomplishments: human kindness. He shows no trace of a knowledge of its existence. Is anger alone enough to explain knighthood?
Kosinski's view of a loveless and joyless world (the many sex acts in his novels hardly spread joy) is an essential element in his picture of Eastern Europe, which so acutely confirms the worst that Americans think of the place. With not a single idea or ideal motivating them but the thirst for power, everything the pseudo-socialists of those countries think up must become a cruel travesty….
The light Kosinski throws on East or West is not a friendly one and not, I think, a true one. It distorts; it is the strobe light of an American horror movie, in which only absolutes are considered shocking enough to move the audience. In the natural world things are less stark, less mechanically acute. (p. 217)
Kosinski does not describe a real landscape, East or West, but a combination of the worst in both. He superimposes a mechanized—an "American"—model of an alienated and crime-racked individualism onto an East European society whose commonality does nothing but lay it wide open to a cannibalistic abuse of power.
In such a world we are indeed left with little to expect for humanity and little to hope for except to be left alone. To be left alone is the only Grail the polo knight, like his predecessors in the earlier novels, is pursuing. (p. 218)
Hans Koning, "Missions Impossible," in The Nation (copyright 1979 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 229, No. 7, September 15, 1979, pp. 216-18.
Jerzy Kosinski takes on some new subject matter—polo, horsemanship and public sex—in his seventh novel, Passion Play, yet these things are not really his new territory. What he presents are the further psychological adventures of the Kosinski hero, who is now as recognizable as the Hemingway hero used to be. But what is genuinely new in Passion Play is that Kosinski's hero grows older; and we are treated to the continuing struggles of the boy from The Painted Bird who became the man from Steps, as he jousts quixotically with (as usual) women and death, loses some of his hair, and enters into a crisis of middle age and lost youth.
There is no nostalgia in this. That's not in Kosinski's emotional kitbag. But in the book's final pages, and particularly in its final image, which I will not reveal here, there is an earned poignancy whose like I have not encountered in Kosinski's work since The Painted Bird.
This book does not really resemble that first novel, which made its author's reputation; it is more in line with his last three books, The Devil Tree, Cockpit and Blind Date. Passion Play is still episodic, though even here Kosinski seems to be charting new stylistic territory—he has become willfully lyrical, and he is much plottier than usual, though his plot creaks and squeaks badly at times.
It creaks for it seems he has turned to the connective tissue of plot only because he's been chided too often for being fragmented and disjointed. And it seems a half-hearted turn. He still is far more interested in discrete incidents than he is in continuity. (p. 1)
At certain moments Fabian so resembles the real Kosinski, as have all his other heroes, that one is tempted to consider this yet another quasi-autobiographical work. But it is more than that, to be sure. Passion Play is a work of both invention and astute observation …—a lurid and comic portrait at the outer limits of this pornographic age, pornographically told….
In Passion Play Fabian has trained himself to be a superb horseman, a seducer on the order of Don Juan, but with decidedly kinky tendencies…. His horsemanship is real and Kosinski of late has himself become a horseman, but in the novel it is also allegorical: a man astride life, astride his totem, along with his knowledge and his skills, tilting against the world.
The image is as romantic as it is solipsistic and the two notions fuse once again in Kosinski's romance of the self-as-survivor. It is romantic because he makes the world too frequently manipulable. His heroes are warriors who survive (maybe with scars) every battle, however bloody. It is solipsistic because the hero is not capable of love as giving, love as selflessness….
[It is] when Fabian discovers that his [one] selfless act was really a devastating miscalculation about himself, that he engages us as fully human, as something other than the manipulative satyr Kosinski has made him out to be. And it is in building to this humanity that Kosinski's plot succeeds; for it counters all that his hero ostensibly professes, that Kosinski himself has always professed. And it is this insight into Fabian that seems to indicate a new direction for this most solipsistic American author.
What I sense from this work that I did not find in his other fiction is a softening of the Kosinski line, which perhaps both the lyricism and the plotting also represent. It all seems like an effort to convey something beyond the stark Spartan warrior mentality, an admission of failure not against greater odds, but through emotional vulnerability.
What seems new is Kosinski's interest in unmanipulable life, life in which the protagonist is neither victim nor hero but a spiritual substance subject to forces that can neither be challenged directly nor can be more than barely understood. Kosinski has always believed in chance as an over-whelming element in human conduct, but his heroes have either resisted it, outmaneuvered it, or taken revenge against its messengers. It is the placement of the hero in a condition where the enemy is vaporous, indefinable, that gives Kosinski a new direction.
The Kosinski hero is unique in literature, and he has lived a fearful and unsettling life until now. The author can surely continue diagramming his survival tactics in the solitary cat-and-mouse games he has always played, but this risks eventual self-parody and a literary hemophilia that no transfusion of new subject matter such as polo or horsemanship could counterbalance.
The new direction, if it is more than an aberrational moment in the hero's career, holds far more promise. It anticipates profound involvement not against but with others, and it demands the definition of those others in a way that would be new for both Kosinski and his hero. If Kosinski is ready, so are we. (p. 11)
William Kennedy, "Kosinski's Hero Rides On," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), September 16, 1979, pp. 1, 11.
["Passion Play" gives] Kosinski the opportunity to engage in some virtuoso writing about sex and horsemanship, which is sometimes fun to read. He is very good at setting up the big scene, the sporting event, the spectacle…. But such scenes, more often than not, seem to intrude upon the narrative.
We know from the jacket copy and the Cervantes epigraph that we are in the presence of a modern knight-errant, and indeed the idea of a picaresque novel written by someone with Kosinski's skills has possibilities. But even in the opening scenes—Fabian's encounters with a female barber, a bunch of rowdy kids, a procurer of "foster daughters," a derelict—there is a leaden, arbitrary tone from which the book never recovers. (p. 18)
Ivan Gold, "Picaresque Sport," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 30, 1979, pp. 9, 18.
Jerzy Kosinski's fictional persona easily made the transition from victim, in The Painted Bird, to victimizer, in Steps. Throughout the four subsequent novels, the cold blooded, impervious Kosinski hero changed little; CIA operative Tarden of Cockpit was as cruel as freelance secret agent Levanter of Blind Date. Passion Play, however, finds the persona somewhat mellowed. In his latest reincarnation, he is an aging polo player named Fabian…. The consuming aggression of past heros has been turned inward, modulated into a neurotic self-absorbtion with the body and sickness….
When not playing polo or pursuing sex, Fabian philosophizes. One example: "In the odyssey of landlocked man, the horse had been the oldest craft of voyage, the most prophetic ship through space. Man astride his mount—even that first man, the horse at full run, its hoofs cleaving soil and space—had been the original passenger through air, the traveler borne by the winds."
Critics have praised Kosinski for such passages; Time has even compared him to Joseph Conrad, another Polish emigré who wrote in English. Now it is true that Kosinski has produced one great work, The Painted Bird. In that first novel, he summoned through his vivid writing images of horror that no reader is likely to forget. Since then, he has done only passably well with the spare action writing of the detective novel. He doesn't have the crude power of Mickey Spillane, the finesse of Ross McDonald, or even the professionalism of any number of detective writers. But his prose is functional as a vehicle for moving something from point A to point B, and is unobjectionable as long as it remains unobtrusive.
Unfortunately, it does not often remain unobtrusive. The erotic passages, for instance, are on a par with the mechanical thumpings the editors of Penthouse grind out every month in their letters column….
His forays into lyrical description are frankly embarrassing, too. (p. 19)
Passion Play teems with … clichéd imagery and amateurish anthropomorphism. Fall leaves cling "defiantly" to trees. And a bit later: "Like a skiff bringing up the rear, a solitary leaf, its fretted veins a lair for the sun, would scud in his wake, gliding through the dappled air." Well, is the leaf gliding or is it scudding? Overloaded with such imagery, it is surprising it doesn't drop like a brick. And dappled air?
Along with his prose, Kosinski also has been lauded by one critic for "the pure genius" of his plotting; other reviewers have been hardly less enthusiastic. They must all be minimalists. For what little plot there is in Kosinski's novels simply follows the peregrinations of the protagonists. This makes for an episodic and often disjointed narrative, particularly in Passion Play, perhaps Kosinski's most plotted work. In the time it takes to move from the genesis of an idea to its predictable conclusion one simply loses interest.
Apart from its kinky sexuality, the story is merely the stuff of adolescent romance, those supermarket melodramas with the alliterative titles and stock characters. (pp. 19-20)
The ingenious perversity and remorseless violence of Kosinski's earlier novels inspired enthusiastic readers to talk of "deeply buried fantasies" and "devastating" commentaries "on contemporary Western life." I would suspect that these fantasies, to the extent we really all do share them, are not so deeply buried: They are the effluvium of our mass-market fantasy machine, the fluff of adolescent thrillers and adventure stories. An admiring critic once described Kosinski as an "Existential Cowboy." This could be Kosinski's epitaph, for it perfectly registers his level of seriousness. Certainly he is far from being "One of the foremost psychological novelists in the world," as Gail Sheehy called him in a Psychology Today interview.
Kosinski's new opus will force some critical reappraisal even from his fans. From Steps to Blind Date he appeared to have dispensed entirely with sentiment as a useless hindrance. In Passion Play, we are flooded with teenage romanticism. This is not such a surprising evolution. In line with Hannah Arendt's argument about the banality of evil, it may be noted that Kosinski's maudlin sentimentality is the flip side of his sadomasochism. The brutality of his earlier novels and the melodrama of Passion Play differ only on the surface; both are a palsied caricature of life that never reaches down to stir up our truly buried fantasies. (p. 20)
Joshua Gilder, "Existential Cowboy Gone Astray," in The New Leader (© 1979 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), Vol. LXII, No. 22, November 19, 1979, pp. 19-20.
[Passion Play] displays a familiar mixture: a protagonist whose life is a series of disconnected steps leading nowhere, women who are more vagina than mind, existential meditations, and explicitly described physical torture. This time, however, the hero rides higher than usual. (p. 52)
Kosinski's undeniable prowess as a scene-maker has never seemed more evident than in the exciting polo matches and seductions in these pages. Ironically, though, the power plays and love games all remain quite cheerless. The onset of middle age and the discovery of his need for love apart from Eros clearly separate Fabian from Tarden, Levanter, and the other Kosinski ciphers, traumas in search of appropriate catastrophes, who have strutted and fretted their ways through earlier novels. The deepest irony seems to be that in Passion Play the hero on horseback remains incapable of expressing true tenderness toward any other beings but his animals. A reader draws back from such coldness of spirit, admiring the craft, dismissing the life. (p. 53)
Alan Cheuse, "Books: 'Passion Play'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1980 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 7, No. 2, January 19, 1980, pp. 52-3.