I am a dying man. I have consumed poison, which is killing me slowly, eating me away from within as surely as cancer.
That poison is beautyThe unnamed protagonist of Beauty and the Least is an average middle-aged man. He goes to work, cares for his wife and kids, and goes to church on Sunday. One day at Mass, after a young girl smiles at him, he develops an obsession with her. He becomes fixated on finding out her name, where she lives, and everything else he could possibly know about her. Things take a turn for the worse for both of them when he thinks he's found a way to have the young girl without her even knowing.
What, after all, do you do with Beauty? She is, to be sure, a grand thing to possess, but to what end? This, it turns out, is a foolish question to ask, since it is of so little relevance; the crux of the matter is rather: what does Beauty do with you?The protagonist finds himself in the same confused state that many do when confronted with great beauty. On one hand, he is drawn to it, in awe of it. In his case, to the point of obsession. The young girl's beauty is a religious experience to look at for him.
On the other, he is resentful of the fact it makes him feel this way, he is jealous of the beauty he can't have, he is frustrated he can't have her, he knows these feelings are leading him to sin, and he is saddened by how fragile her beauty is. Being a middle-aged man with a wife whose beauty has long faded away, he's all too aware what an ephemeral thing beauty is, how it's presented to us for a short period of time before it's destroyed or yanked away by time or other circumstances.
Beauty and the Least is a very short read at only about 30 pages, and I find it a bit odd it's being billed as a novella. It's barely longer than a short story. Still, this seems like a good introduction to what Nowicki's all about.
I'll be picking up more of his work. Nowicki's prose is wonderful, his protagonist is painfully human, and it's an excellent, thought provoking horror story. I recommend to everyone, even those who will disagree with his Catholic worldview.
Buy Beauty and the Least here.