Desperate Characters: A Novel by Paula Fox

By Paula Fox

"A towering landmark of postwar Realism. . . . A sustained paintings of prose so lucid and high quality it kind of feels much less written than carved." - David Foster Wallace

Otto and Sophie Bentwood reside childless in a renovated Brooklyn brownstone. the full works of Goethe line their bookshelf, their chrome steel kitchen is newly put in, and their Mercedes is parked curbside. yet after Sophie is bitten at the hand whereas attempting to feed a half-starved local cat, a chain of small and ominous failures start to plague their lives. The fault strains in their marriage are published - echoing the fractures of society round them, slowly wrenching itself aside. First released in 1970 to huge acclaim, Desperate Characters stands as the most superb and rigorous examples of the storyteller's craft in postwar American literature - a singular that, in line with Irving Howe, ranks with "Billy Budd, the good Gatsby, pass over Lonelyhearts, and Seize the Day."

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The warrior’s bed was made ready for him at once; no trouble was spared. ’ The host ordered his men to depart. The beds of the guest’s pages lay in a circle around his own, with their heads next to it, as was Gahmuret’s custom. Tall candles stood there, burning brightly. It irked the warrior that the night lasted so long. The black Mooress, that country’s queen, Book I  caused him to swoon again and again. He twisted and turned, time and again, like a bundle of willow twigs, his joints cracking.

Both their deaths will trouble me forever. Grief blooms upon my loyalty. ’       Parzival Gahmuret’s immediate thought was that, although she was a heathen, a more womanly and loyal disposition had never glided into a woman’s heart. Her chastity was a pure baptism, as was the rain which poured upon her, the flood that flowed from her eyes down upon her sable and her breast. Contrition’s cult was her delight, and true grief’s doctrine. She told him more: ‘Then, from across the sea, the King of the Scots attacked me with his army.

Gaschier the Norman brought him there––he was courteous, his father was a Frenchman. He was Kaylet’s sister’s son; he’d travelled in a woman’s service. Killirjacac was his name, a counterweight to all men’s beauty. When Gahmuret beheld him––their countenances attested their kinship, they resembled one another greatly––he asked the mighty queen to kiss and embrace him. ’ The host then kissed him himself––they were delighted to see one another. Gahmuret then said: ‘Alas, gentle youth, what were you doing here, being of such tender years?

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