Desperate Characters: A Novel
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"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 childless in a renovated Brooklyn brownstone. The complete works of Goethe line their bookshelf, their stainless-steel kitchen is newly installed, and their Mercedes is parked curbside. But after Sophie is bitten on the hand while trying to feed a half-starved neighborhood cat, a series of small and ominous disasters begin to plague their lives. The fault lines of their marriage are revealed - echoing the fractures of society around them, slowly 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."
never…” She hesitated and turned toward the kitchen, where they could both see Leon cleaning up with the single-minded, controlled ferocity of a performing bear. “I never had anything like that,” Claire continued. “I suppose the nearest I’ve come to it is him.” She gestured over her shoulder at the kitchen. “And not when we were married. Not then. But now. You must think it’s ridiculous…but he touches me, you see. I don’t feel that I have enough time left for anything but truth…about myself. I
shatter her. She wanted to reassure him—she was thinking of what to say—when he asked her exactly what Charlie had said to her Friday night. He would continue to ask her, she thought, and she would continue to be unable to tell him. She no longer remembered what Charlie had said to her Friday night. “Nothing much about you, except what I’ve already told you.” “What he said about me doesn’t matter. He was up to something just because it was you he was talking to.” It was clearing outside.
as though they’d been struck down just before they reached their goal. Only the Ford truck looked as if it might still run. Rubber tires leaned against every surface. Cans, tools, pails, lengths of hose, rusted grills, and summer furniture were spread out in front of the house, presenting a scene of monkeylike distraction—as though each object had been snatched up and then dropped, a second’s forgetfulness erasing all memory of original intention. A clothesline was strung across the porch and
heaved a massive sigh. “Help me clear, Connie,” she said. Connie shook her head, but her mother yanked her to her feet. As Sophie looked back, she saw mother and daughter laboriously removing dirty plates from the table. “Tom’ll meet us in half an hour,” announced Mr. Haynes, fighting off the frantic embrace of Mamba as he got into the back seat of the Mercedes. He apologized elaborately for the dog as he shoved her out onto the ground, and then for his dirty boots. He seemed to suggest that the
said. He sighed. “Done, at last.” “What’s done?” “Deaf Sophie. You really don’t listen to me any more. Charlie moved out today, to his new office. He didn’t even tell me until this morning that he’d actually found a place. He said he wanted the whole thing to be a clean break. ‘If I need the files, can I get in touch with you?’ That’s what he asked me. Even in such a question, he implies that I’m likely to be unreasonable.” She sat down, keeping her left hand on her lap. “You’ve never said