10 of 15: “Desperate Characters” by Paula Fox

For those of you reading along in the 15 project, my 10th book (yay, 2/3 done!) was Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, which has been on my shelf since March of 2002, according to the receipt inside it. I think I’d just read Fox’s Slave Dancer, winner of the 1974 Newbery Medal, and been blown away by its story and the skill of the writing, and wanted to check out her writing for adults; Desperate Characters had just come back into print.

Otto and Sophie Bentwood are a 40ish childless couple living in Brooklyn in the late 60’s. Their neighborhood is covered in trash, and their backyard overlooks the slums. They don’t like or understand the children of their friends. On a Friday night, before a party, Sophie tried to feed a stray cat, and is bitten for her trouble. The bite and the pain of it carry through the weekend, and this close-up snapshot of a particular place and time.

Fox’s prose is amazingly crafted, and conveys much with few words.

When Otto came home, he discovered Sophie off in a corner of the living room, sitting in a formal chair no one ever sat in, stippled with light and shadow. Her silence and the dining room table set for dinner, which he glimpsed through the living room doors, looked like a set piece arranged for some purpose that had subsequently been forgotten. He had the impression she was weeping without sound, and that perhaps the elements of this forlorn scene had been contrived for his benefit, a domstic lesson that was to elicit from him an apology. (93)

This is a beautifully written book, full of metaphor and portents, that delves deep into its characters. Otto and Sophie are among the desperate characters of the title, yet they’re complicated–not entirely pathetic, yet not entirely likable, either. It’s not a cheerful read, but neither is it a dire one. It is, though, quite rewarding.

7 Responses to “10 of 15: “Desperate Characters” by Paula Fox”

  1. Amy Says:

    I remember reading and loving her YA work as a teen. I should look this up.

    I went graphic again: http://www.newcenturyreading.com/2010/04/the-151515-projectday-10.html

  2. Farheen Says:

    I read the easiest and funniest book ever. Had a great Sunday because of the book. It is amazing how, sometimes, books can make you forget everything around you.


  3. MFS Says:

    Here’s my update, including links back to this post:


    Wishing you a good week!


  4. Inquirer Says:

    10 of 15 … The Girl Who Threw Butterflies. I really liked this YA/kids fiction book. While it won’t make my “Bookclub for Boys” summer reading list, it would be great if you have a girl who loves sports.

    Are we really almost done? I love this challenge, but my family would like dinner and some clean clothes eventually.


  5. girldetective Says:

    Farheen, did you get the idea for Carry On Jeeves from Jessica? ‘Cause it’s really strange/cool that you both read the same book. I _don’t_ have Carry On Jeeves, but I have a surplus of others, and may pick one of the shorter ones.

  6. Farheen Says:

    No. I had selected my books beforehand. It came as a surprise to me too when I saw that Jessica planned to read the same book. I guess great minds think alike!

  7. Jessica Snell Says:

    Yay! Three cheers for Wodehouse! I’m curious if anyone else is feeling the urge to watch the Laurie/Fry performances of Wodehouse from the BBC . . .

    For book 10, I went back to an old favorite, C. S. Lewis, prompted by another reader in this challenge that read “Mere Christianity” a couple of days ago. But I read a collection of his essyas: