The Mighty Angel

By JERZY PILCH

Wit is the life raft on the boozy waters that brace Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel. The winner of Poland’s 2001 NIKE Literary Award, this remorselessly enjoyable novel concerns the goings-on of “Jerzy,” a writer who has teetered in and out of rehab 18 times and always has a snug expression ready to sling. At the inpatient facility, this ingratiates him to his peers, who pay him to write their emotional journals — a compulsory requirement for all aspiring teetotalers. While ghostwriting one such entry, Jerzy poses a series of questions that bask in the novel’s ruminative superstructure: “How can the depths of the drunken soul be reconciled with the shallows of the drunken body? How can the loftiest flights of the soul ever be equated with a fearful barfing? What is the connection between the boldness and panache of the evening and the fear and trembling of the morning?” From the opening paragraph — in which the protagonist awakens to discover a couple of Mafiosi in his room who have taken it upon themselves to act as literary agents for a female poet — to the closing paragraphs that flick away the tragic arc that’s usually prefabricated for books in the end-of-the-bottle genre, Pilch teases out plenty of LOL moments from desultory situations. All told, The Mighty Angel furnishes enough Schadenfreude to stylishly blacken just about any comedic sensibility.