Sunday, September 14, 2014

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

A couple navigates their way through falling-to-pieces New York

 After cooking a delicious meal for her attorney husband, Sophie Bentwood, an educated housewife, is badly bitten by a stray cat she has been surreptitiously feeding. Over the course of the book, she ignores the worsening bite, as she and husband Otto attend sophisticated parties, complain about their sophisticated friends and visit their summer house, which inexplicably has been trashed. In between, Sophie sneaks a midnight drink with Otto’s estranged business partner, reminisces about her peculiarly detached lover who broke up with her and returned to his wife, and wonders if she has rabies. At the end of the book, Otto and Sophie stand in an embrace, ink splattered on the walls of their townhouse.

This novel reminded me of Diane Johnson's novels. A certain kind of seventies chic. Women raised to be household ornaments getting freed from their cultural chains. Now what? Sex probably. Then what? The best part of this book was the nearly surreal dialogue. There's an absurdity, almost Wodehousian, to the dialogue. My expectations, however, were probably too high. The story felt a little musty to me, airless. The musty smell of privilege, of a bygone world. The novel also reminded me of BUtterfield 8.  Parasites who don't need to work futzing around with their unearned money.  There's a little something of The Great Gatsby going on as well.

The sentences are wonderfully poetical, really designed to be read aloud and the scenes are short, vivid and surreal. The funny shock if the word “cunt” near the end of the book. And the shock of the turd in the summer home.  A mirror is held up to the face of society and the face doesn't turn out to be all that sweet.

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