A hard-hitting psychological novel that takes the reader deep into the mind of a narcissist
This kaleidoscopic narrative is shot through with the unease of its thirtysomething protagonist, tormented by the emptiness of his existence and prone to violent outbursts directed at his girlfriends. At the same time it is a compelling and darkly humorous exploration of the male condition, complete with its own twisted take on couples therapy.
When the bar he owns goes bankrupt and his relationship with Elsa, the love of his life, comes to a violent end, the nameless protagonist of *Tenderness *falls into despondency. He finds a job as a postal worker for a magazine publisher and lives life according to a fixed pattern: every Saturday he hits the bars with two bachelor buddies and every Sunday his mother comes to call.
His weekly grind is disrupted when he finds a basket of kittens near his office one day. He decides to keep one, christens him Buscemi, and before he knows it his newfound pet has brought him into contact with Zerline, who quickly becomes the new woman in his life. Initially all is well in love, but before long a familiar tension starts to build and cracks appear in their relationship. As with Elsa, he is unable to control his fits of rage. During one such explosion, he throws a lamp at Zerline and accidentally kills Buscemi.
Alone again, he backslides into an aimless existence. He tries to analyse his state of mind, considers seeking professional help and loses himself in the cinematic violence of Lynch, Tarantino and Hitchcock. *Vertigo *inspires him to embark on a crazy experiment with a colleague who has fallen in love with him. He begins a relationship with her in which they re-enact his previous conflicts with Elsa and Zerline: an uneasy mix of anger management and couples therapy.
Convinced that he is cured of his violent impulses, he tries to get back together with Zerline and pick up where they left off. She rebuffs him outright and tells him that aggression is not the root of his problems. The heart of the matter is not entirely clear, not even for the reader, who by this time has been lured into the dark recesses of the narrator’s mind. In this gripping novel, Ouariachi leaves plenty to the imagination and immerses the reader in an intense depiction of a born narcissist who is both desperately in need of love and incapable of having a relationship: ‘Alone with his thoughts, burdened with nothing or no one other than himself.’