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Desperate Characters

Paula Fox (Author)

With an Introduction by Jonathan Franzen


"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."

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • March 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-393-35110-1
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 192 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“[Desperate Characters]—tense, quick, prickling with suppressed panic—is very much of its time and has a lot to say to ours, too. If you’ve never read it, or if, like me, it’s been a while since you did, now is an excellent moment to pick it up.” — Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

“A masterwork of economical prose…Remarkable…[O]ne can only wonder who is more fatally deluded—the desperate characters of the Bentwoods' era or the hyperconfident ones of our own.” — Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

“Absorbing, elegant.” — Charles Winecoff, Entertainment Weekly

“Packed with lucid insights.” — Isabella Biedenharn, Entertainment Weekly

“A perfect short novel…As in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, everything crucial within our souls bared.” — Andrea Barrett

“This perfect novel about pain is as clear, and as wholly believable, and as healing, as a fever dream.” — Frederick Busch

“The first time I read Desperate Characters…I fell in love with it.” — Jonathan Franzen

“Fox dissects a marriage and a social class with the sharpest of knives, cannily undermining not only one couple’s false pieties and deceptive comforts but our own as well.” — Marisa Silver

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