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Desperate Characters (1970)

por Paula Fox

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9494022,275 (3.7)34
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."… (mais)
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I liked this book less than the previous time I read it, even though I used Franzen's interpretation as my guide. Possibly because I did not live in New York at the time this is depicting, but I doubt that's the reason. I did not care for any of the characters, and I did not care what happened to them. They all were narcissistic and selfish.No more Paula Fox for me. There were also an overabundance of bigoted statements from people who were very entitiled. ( )
  suesbooks | May 6, 2024 |
"...she was still smiling as the cat reared up on its hind legs, even as at struck at her with extended claws, smiling right up to that second when it sunk its teeth into the back of her left hand and hung from her flesh so that she nearly fell forward, stunned and horrified...."

Otto and Sophie Bentwood live in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. Otto is in the process of dissolving his longtime law partnership with Charlie Russell. Cracks are beginning to show in Otto and Sophie's marriage, and outside, all around are signs that civil society is falling apart.

One evening after dinner, Sophie gives a saucer of milk to a stray cat on their back porch. As she bends down to pet the cat, it viciously bites her. Over the next three days she ponders, Will she get rabies and die? or Will nothing happen? Sophies ambivalence was said, by Jonathan Franzen in the forward to the edition I read, to resemble Hamlet, a "morbidly self-conscious character who receives a disturbing and ambiguous message, undergoes torments while trying to decide what the message means...." Over the three days as Sophie tries to decide what to do, then waits test results, the book builds enormous suspense. I found the writing to be exquisite, and I underlined many phrases. (I will probably put a few at the end of this review). I will definitely be searching for more to read by Paula Fox

4 1/2 stars

Incidentally David Foster Wallace called this book "A towering landmark of postwar Realism." And Jonathan Franzen says this book and Fox are better than her contemporaries Updike, Roth, and Bellow.

First line: "Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously."

Last lines: "The voice from the telephone went on and on like gas leaking from a pipe. Sophie and Otto had ceased to listen. Her arms fell away from his shoulders as they both turned slowly to the wall, turned until they could both see the ink running down to the floor in black lines...."

Here are a few more quotes:

"What the owners on the street lusted after was recognition of their superior comprehension of what counted in this world, and their strategy for getting it combined restraint and direction."

"All around them were official buildings, with the peculiarly threatening character. of large carnivorous animals momentarily asleep."

Otto and Charlie were like "smiling people in a swimming pool, kicking each other under water."

"She had only recently realized that one was old for a very ong time." ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Dec 10, 2022 |
Pretty great story of a modern (circa 1970) NYC marriage, bookended by a feral cat bit and whether or not the wife has rabies. In the course of the short book, we have a window, mostly into the wife, her affair, her ennui, her discomfort with her unhappy husband. Wondering if there is any more- but both wife and husband are so empty ... just trying to go on and this is so well portrayed. The lack of connection between them is finally broken with the husband's outrage at his former law partner (yelling into the phone and the world) and he sees an ink bottle and throws it violently against the wall. The wife flung her arms around him so tightly that for a moment he could not move. Pretty beautiful. I heard about this because of the tv show called You. ( )
1 vote apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
This was a very tedioous read about bigoted, misogynistic, anti-semitic people who think of themselves as very caring and very liberal. the wife is bitten by a stray cat and the possibility of her developing rabies is the main metaphor for the unhappiness of the protagonists. I agree that relationships are complex, but I prefer to read about characters with some redeeming qualities. ( )
  suesbooks | Jul 3, 2022 |
Wow! Because I don't pay attention to Jonathan Franzen, I had not heard of Paula Fox until I watched the TV show You. What a shame that the book is still not better known.

Fox is a writer's writer. Her language is concise and revealing. Her metaphors are witty. A couple that I particularly liked:

"He wasn't a seducer. He was remote. He was like a man preceded into a room by acrobats."

"A nurse with a face that looked as if it had been drawn by a child with a pink crayon."

Nothing much happens, but the suffocation, claustrophobia, and unhappiness are palpable all the way through. These lives have already been chosen, and there's seemingly no way out, no way to change them. The affair fizzles, the discussed adoption of a child will never take place, and on and on. The couple is stuck with each other, stationary, in a world that is changing rapidly around them. Their misery culminates in a scene that Fox writes as both shocking and fairly mundane.

It's a book that's hard to describe. You'll just have to read it. ( )
  Crae | Mar 26, 2022 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 40 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Die moderne amerikanische Kultur lässt sich nicht mehr auf Comics und Kaugummi reduzieren, seit die Klassiker der neueren amerikanischen Literatur ins Deutsche übertragen wurden; nach Raymond Carver nun auch Paula Fox. Deren inzwischen weltberühmter Roman "Was am Ende bleibt", 1971 mit Shirley MacLaine erfolgreich verfilmt, kam in den USA und in Deutschland neu heraus. Ob es sich dabei um eine grundlegende Neuübersetzung handelt, bleibt unklar.

Dabei wäre eine solche dringend notwendig. Zumindest die vorliegende Version erfüllt allein den Zweck einer Übertragung ins Deutsche. Künstlerische und sprachlich-gestalterische Kriterien bleiben vernachlässigt. Die detaillierten Beschreibungen verlieren an Stringenz, die Sätze verknoten sich. Dies ist sehr bedauerlich, denn die Autorin versteht es in ihrer Muttersprache meisterhaft, Stimmungen und Seelenlandschaften zu erfassen.
 

» Adicionar outros autores (9 possíveis)

Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Paula Foxautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Franzen, JonathanPosfácioautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Jonkers, RonaldTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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On a first reading, Desperate Characters is a novel of suspense. Sophie Bentwood, a forty-year-old Brooklynite, is bitten by a stray cat to which she's given milk, and for the next three days she wonders what the bite is going to bring to her: death of rabies? shots in the belly? nothing at all? The engine of the book is Sophie's cold-sweat dread. As in more conventional suspense novels, the stakes are life and death and, perhaps, the fate of the Free World. -Introduction, No End to It: Rereading Desperate Characters, Jonathan Franzen
Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously. As he sat down, Otto regarding the straw basket which held slices of French bread, an earthenware casserole filled with sauteed chicken livers, peeled and sliced tomatoes on an oval willowware platter Sophie had found in a Brooklyn Heights antique shop, and risotto Milanese in a green ceramic bowl. A strong light, somewhat softened by the stained glass of a Tiffany shade, fell upon this repast. -Chapter One
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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."

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