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Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Desperate Characters (original 1970; edition 2015)

by Paula Fox (Author), Jonathan Franzen (Introduction)

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6422422,844 (3.76)24
Title:Desperate Characters
Authors:Paula Fox (Author)
Other authors:Jonathan Franzen (Introduction)
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2015), Edition: Reissue, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2017, fiction

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Desperate Characters by Paula Fox (1970)


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English (19)  Catalan (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
A short, fast read but it struck me in the same way that the film Rachel Getting Married did: a good book/film about insufferable people. Also, not totally sure I got the ending. ( )
  winedrunksea | Mar 28, 2015 |
I didn't finish it...I just got so tired of it. ( )
  annwieland | Mar 9, 2015 |
Not the classic I was expecting. I thought the tone was uneven with too great a disparity between time spent inside characters' heads and the factitious images the author often imposed. Big disappointment. A library book I never finished. ( )
1 vote adrianburke | Jun 16, 2014 |
Jagged and brilliant. ( )
  Queenofcups | Oct 31, 2013 |
Critically acclaimed when it was published in 1970 and then largely forgotten, this small, polished gem of a novel has been rediscovered. It follows a well-to-do, childless couple living in a renovated brownstone in not-yet-gentrified Brooklyn, beset by the intrusions of the neighborhood and by their own unhappiness, over the course of a weekend. Acutely observed, economically written, brilliantly conveys the fissures in society and the characters' mounting desperation. Worthy of the renewed attention if not of the exaltation bestowed by Jonathan Franzen in the introduction. ( )
1 vote alpin | Jun 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paula Foxprimary authorall editionscalculated
Franzen, JonathanAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jonkers, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously.
On a first reading, Desperate Characters is a novel of suspense. (Introduction)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039331894X, Paperback)

Meet the Bentwoods, Sophie and Otto, "both just over forty," living in Brooklyn sometime in the '60s with neither hope nor children to encourage them to work on their suffocating marriage. Such are the central subjects of Paula Fox's enthralling Desperate Characters, first published to much acclaim in 1970. The novel's action unfolds in a single weekend, and includes Otto's torturous breakup with his longtime business partner, Charlie, and a visit the Bentwoods make to their country home, which they find vandalized. Everything pivots around an occurrence so ordinary as to make us marvel at the power it wields under Fox's brilliant pressure: a cat bite.

Despite Otto's protests, Sophie puts out a dish for a stray that roams the Bentwoods' neighborhood--an area which is also home to enormous poverty, and in which they, in their renovated townhouse, sit like distant royalty. The cat sinks its teeth into her hand and instantly we are plunged into the heart of what plagues every aspect of this couple's lives: the threat of rabies. Where the cat is concerned, it's literal rabies, but the book is also steeped in the sense that a kind of social rabies lurks just outside the Bentwoods' and indeed the whole world's door. As Sophie suddenly realizes at one point: "Ticking away inside the carapace of ordinary life and its sketchy agreements was anarchy."

Throughout Fox's gorgeously crafted, unflinching portrait of a dying marriage and a country at war with itself, the Bentwoods fight the desire to self-destruct like everything around them. At one point, Otto screams at Sophie: "What in God's name do you want? Do you want Charlie to murder me? Do you wish the farmhouse had been burned down?... Do you want to be rabid?" She doesn't, of course, but in a certain way, that outcome makes sense. "'God, if I am rabid, I am equal to what is outside,' she said out loud, and felt an extraordinary relief as though, at last, she'd discovered what it was that could create a balance between the quiet, rather vacant progression of the days she spent in this house, and those portents that lit up the dark at the edge of her own existence." How fortunate and rare to discover such a perfect articulation of the human condition. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:33 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

First published in 1970 to great acclaim, this novel stands as one of the most dazzling and rigorous examples of the storyteller's craft in postwar American literature--a novel that, according to Irving Howe, ranks with "Billy Budd" and "The Great Gatsby".… (more)

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