Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
A Novel (Norton Paperback Fiction)

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Fox enacts the internal and external pressures bearing down on the Bentwoods, peeling away their false protections little by little until they are left quivering and exposed. The dissection is so expert and ultimately so brutal that reading it, I have the urge to turn away, And yet, I can't.
-NPR

Synopsis

"A towering landmark of postwar Realism. . . . A sustained work of prose so lucid and fine it seems less written than carved." — David Foster Wallace


Otto and Sophie Bentwood live in a changing neighborhood in Brooklyn. Their stainless-steel kitchen is newly installed, and their Mercedes is parked curbside. After Sophie is bitten on the hand while trying to feed a stray, perhaps rabies-infected cat, a series of small and ominous disasters begin to plague the Bentwoods' lives, revealing the fault lines and fractures in a marriage—and a society—wrenching itself apart.


First published in 1970 to wide acclaim, Desperate Characters 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, The Great Gatsby, Miss Lonelyhearts, and Seize the Day."

 

About Paula Fox

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Paula Fox was born April 22, 1923 in New York City. When she was eight, she moved to a Cuban plantation and stayed for two years. In Cuba, she went to a one-room school with eight other students who ranged in age from six to fourteen. Fox attended nine schools before she was twelve. She spent 3 years at Columbia University but didn't graduate. Fox didn't start writing until she started a job teaching troubled children. Before that she worked in a wide variety of jobs. At sixteen, she was reading books for Warner Brothers, including Spanish novels. She was also a salesgirl, a model, a worker in a rivet-sorting shop, and lastly a lathe operator at the Bethlehem Steel during World War II. She wrote her first adult novel, Poor George, while she was living in Greece with her family followed by Maurice's Room, her first children's book. Fox is best known for her children's books, such as The Slave Dancer, which earned her a Newbery Medal and a Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1984. Her adult novels include The Widows Children, A Servant's Tale, and The God of Nightmares, and News from the World: Stories and Essays.
 
Published May 17, 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company. 180 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Desperate Characters
All: 2 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 0

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Marisa Silver on May 18 2014

Fox enacts the internal and external pressures bearing down on the Bentwoods, peeling away their false protections little by little until they are left quivering and exposed. The dissection is so expert and ultimately so brutal that reading it, I have the urge to turn away, And yet, I can't.

Read Full Review of Desperate Characters: A Novel... | See more reviews from NPR

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Marisa Silver on May 18 2014

This is a book that makes me sit up and say "Yes! That's exactly it!" at the very moment when whatever "it" is, that truth that feels suddenly immediate and palpable, evaporates in front of my eyes.

Read Full Review of Desperate Characters: A Novel... | See more reviews from NPR

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