Thursday, February 16, 2012
Re-reading Fox's Desperate Characters
I just couldn't resist reading Paula Fox's Desperate Characters again after all these years. Even though the book was first published over 40 years ago, the writing still feels fresh. This novella follows a few days in the lives of Sophie and Otto Bentwood, a well-to-do couple living near Brooklyn Heights. It all begins when a stray cat bites Sophie on the hand. This is the first of many assaults from the outside world that can't be avoided, no matter how cloistered and privileged a life one might try to lead. A rock thrown at a window, the sound of bongos from the street, the knocking of a stranger at the door, all are ways in which the equanimity that the protagonists seek are disturbed. This is a witty book that blends the tragic and the comic, the mundane and the existential. While the characters are hard to like, perhaps it is only because we find something of Sophie or Otto in ourselves in our efforts to lead lives that keep any kind of desperation at bay!