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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Desperate Characters: A Novel

Desperate Characters - Paula Fox There are books out there which are phenomenal examples of writing. Some of these books see the light of day, garner some attention, are even made into a respectable film, but they're forgotten all too quickly. They float away from the literary canon and are out-of-print before anyone notices. Such a book was Paula Fox's poignant novel Desperate Characters.Fortunately, in the case of this book, all was not lost. Jonathan Franzen pushed it as a classic, "soaring above every other work of American realist fiction since the Second World War." Someone took note and Desperate Characters was given a second life.Fox has an exceptionally strong sense of language. In the brevity of one sentence, she tells entire stories, eliminating the need for bogged-down exposition and unnecessary backstory. Her descriptions do more than paint a scene--they set the mood, tell the history, and develop the characters. One need to only read the descriptions of the Bentwood home, their neighborhood, the hospital, the drive to the Bentwood summer home, and the summer home itself to have an firm idea of the story.Not much happens in Desperate Characters, which lends to tedium in some scenes. The fact the entire book centers around a bourgeois Brooklyn couple and their response to a cat bite is enough to scare most readers away. Even so, Desperate Characters is likely the best book I've read "seemingly about nothing." Of course, the novel is not about nothing, and it is clever in its indictment of civilization. It is a novel about the end of society and the catastrophes which plague a typical middleclass couple of the 1960s.In my limited knowledge of the way the literary world works, I don't foresee Desperate Characters as ever establishing itself as a magnum opus. In fact, I wouldn't been surprised if it wasn't out-of-print again in another ten years. Hopefully not. Just in case it is, however, I recommend getting your hands on a copy while they're still readily available.