Ben Nadler's debut novel, Harvitz, As To War, follows the romp of a young Jewish man from New Jersey across an archipelago of the trans-millennial American subcultural occult: punk, whatever that means; the Army, whatever that means; the hobo, and the Born Again Christian. Sammy Harvitz, its dubious hero, undergoes initiation after initiation into these various obscurantist entities in search of his Place, but we share his doubts throughout as to whether it is ever truly possible to become part of any of them.
For Harvitz each subsumption smacks of enactment, of posturing, whether it be in a punk house, a barracks, or a shelter. The difference between fulfillment and what suffices hovers above each persona. At times the narrative is as choppy and ill paced as Harvitz's life, as lives in general can be and often are; filled with transitions demarcated by that asterisk metastasis that in fiction is akin to the snap decision. One considers its concept, its haste, but moves on to the next pose or deferment.
Ultimately what Nadler's protagonist is after is an ever-elusive baptism by fire, access to which is always the central promise of the next kaleidoscopic life change. Though, for Harvitz, conversion does not guarantee revelation. Ever. Or maybe it does. A rich, if at times rushed, account of Harvitz's search--from a Vietnam vet's weed farm in California to a gated community in Florida, from Coney Island to Williamsburg--As To War enticingly intimates Nadler's great fund of erudition, shrewdness, and brutality.
BEN NADLER lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently pursuing his MFA at The City College of New York. Harvitz, As To War is his first published book.