Stahl moves us to a deracination process so profound that we'd need a transliteration in order to absorb some of his most crackbrained thoughts. Disobedient to the corporate TV studios ("creativity is the opposite of TV") his personality is rousing and scary, charming enough for us to root for his salvation despite his permanent heroin incantation. He grew up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, after his father's ascension to a federal judgeship, attending the preppy Hill School, his classmates the privileged sons of show business moguls.
It's heartbreaking that Stahl disguises with tongue-in-cheek quips painful memories of his dad's suicide in the garage ("he never had a father and I never didn't") and his mother's denial of it. (The passage in which she phones him the night after Mother's Day is chilling: he can't stand his mom's accusations and hangs up the phone, staring at the grey sky. At 6:23am he has a meltdown and bursts out in screams. Later, this reflection: "I have done everything, from slashing my wrists to shooting heroin, to stay the good little boy. Because, I see now, on some cringing level, that's all being a junkie was. Forget being cool, forget being underground. It was a way of staying ashamed").
Hubert Selby, Jr. (author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream) gives him advice about writing about what hurt him, about the torture. Although progressively insensitive to others' needs and expectations, Stahl surprises us with a few moments of love for some of his partners: filled with warmth for Sandra (his green card television exec wife) he brings her breakfast one morning. He can't seem to reform while he's attached to yuppie demands (he "never glommed on to the big buck WASP thing") but the fact he is capable of bighearted actions, among his ghoulish habits and antisocial recidivism, just confuses us a little more.
He meets Kitty in a rehab centre in Arizona, where he's bound to pass the 92 days clean program, although he's been writing unreadable stories in the library stacks at Phoenix College and he's expelled from the center when he stops following the rules after two months.
I found the relationship described in the novel slightly different from that in the film Permanent Midnight (1998). In the book they meet at the center and flirt, then she dumps her Christian boyfriend and reunites with Stahl in motels and her apartment regularly for sex sessions whose goal is replacing drug addiction with simulacre foreplay, physical contact being a barrier from another type of substance craving.