The Wherewithal: A Novel in Verse

Written by Philip Schultz
Review by Erin Davies

1968 finds Henryk Stanislaw Wyrzykowski hiding out as a clerk in the basement of a San Francisco welfare office. Secure in his clandestine sanctuary, Henryk spends his days filing paperwork and translating his mother’s diaries while dodging Uncle Sam and the horrors of service in Vietnam. What unfolds is an increasingly disordered and bizarrely attractive illustration of personal delirium and the human condition.

The parallel story lines – the mental deterioration Henryk suffers in his solitary existence and that recognized in his mother’s memories of the Jedwabne pogrom – struck me in a way that is difficult to describe. The delusions these characters construct within the confines of their minds are powerful and somewhat disturbing, but they take on an almost hallucinogenic quality, offered as they are in Schultz’s disordered and haunting prose.

A deliciously dark commentary, The Wherewithal is an extraordinary allegory that deftly elucidates the nature of evil, the impact of war, the power of the human mind and the unsettling idea that we are each our own devil and we make this world our hell.