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Desperate Characters (Norton Paperback Fiction) Paperback – May 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: WW Norton & Co; Reprint edition (May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039331894X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318944
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 1 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 324,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Brilliant [Fox] is one of the most attractive writers to come our way in a long, long time. "

About the Author

Paula Fox has written many books for children and five other novels, as well as the memoir Borrowed Finery. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By P. J. on 9 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback
I love novels like this, ones that trade in an atmosphere of unrelenting unease. Nothing other than the most banal occurrences make up the plot, but Fox imbues these events with a significance that renders them almost surreal. The stray cat, for example, which like most felines (and i do own one) is just as likely to purr in your face as want to shred it, takes on a horror film, Jaws-like, level of ominousness (you can almost hear the quickening ''duh duh's'' when Sophie spots it outside the house). There is a sense of decay surrounding the landscape of the novel and a malevolence, a barely suppressed hysteria, in almost every character.

Whilst this may give the impression that Desperate Characters is a dour read, it isn't and this is largely due to Fox's prose, which is sardonic, even laugh-out-loud funny at times, and wonderfully perceptive. There are a number of marriage-in-crisis novels out there, as there are novels that concern themselves with the vacuousness of modern society and the disintegration of values, but this is one of the very best.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bob Ventos on 30 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Childless Otto and Sophie Bentwood are late '60s yuppies living in a rough but gentrifying district of New York. A series of apparently small incidents (Sophie is bitten by an alley-cat, their house in Long Island is burgled and trashed, Otto splits with his business partner) risk turning Sophie from an outward-looking liberal type, wanting to think the best of people and things, to a fearful focus on desperately defending her own. Otto has already reached that point. Around them, society is mysteriously changing, young people are increasingly inexplicable, and the poor aren't as deferential and grateful as they used to be. Other characters are also either still struggling for their ideals, have recently given up on them, or are relentlessly on the make. The success of this short, understated book, I thought, is in showing how easily such a sea-change can happen in people's outlooks, especially as they become middle-aged. It's done with a dry humour and an eye for urban oddities and, despite the novel being about 40 years old, felt surprisingly contemporary.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Jun. 1999
Format: Paperback
The comments by all those famous authors on the cover of this short novel are unerringly true. One note of advice: save the Franzen introduction and read it after you have svored the novel. Truly--you will want to turn immediately to someone who has read the book, and perusing Franzen's insightful, laudatory paragraphs are the next best thing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William Jordan on 16 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jonathan Franzen says in the introduction to this novel that he has read it 6 or 7 times, and clearly enjoying more each time. I did enjoy reading it once, but I simply cannot imagine doing likewise.

The novel is a series of episodes, variations on a common theme, of a couple whose happy relationship with really undergoes a series of challenges. As the back jacket tells us, these include being bitten by a cat, separating from a partner in a legal practiced, living in a neighbourhood where you don't much care for the neighbours and their uncouth behaviour and experiencing youth culture of the 60s) and so on. Franzen tells us - and it's difficult to argue with this when he points it out - it's also a series of failed efforts to find help, from friends and family and familiar comfort objects. The marriage of the central couple itself does not seem all that strong.

It is very precisely written; and in that sense a real pleasure to read. In another sense, I felt perhaps rather ungenerously, that I've read other accounts of coming unstuck from the world (notably Patrick Suskind's The Pigeon) that somehow I've just found a bit more overwhelmingly real.
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By Felt Tip on 5 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a very short novel, and it's good, but not quite as good as I expected. It didn't quite live up to all the praise it was given - not as good as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or Freedom which are albeit much bigger novels, but I was searching for that style, and it wasn't quite there. Still good though.
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