One of the New York Times' 25 Most Significant New York City Novels From the Last 100 Years
"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 the Author
Paula Fox (1923—2017) was the author of Desperate Characters, The Widow’s Children, A Servant’s Tale, The God of Nightmares, Poor George, The Western Coast, and Borrowed Finery: A Memoir, among other books.
[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
Paula Fox’s narrative feels singular, particularly in the way it captures, through effervescently intelligent dialogue, the tenuousness of intimate relationships. — Rose Courteau - New York Times
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
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
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
Desperate Characters is a hard, bitter, extreme little book that is somehow full of humanity. It has a brilliant narrative device: a cat bite that may or may not be rabid serves as a kind of tow line pulling us through the novel. I’ve seldom read a book with so much nastiness that manages never to disdain its characters. Extraordinary.