Charles Winecoff
June 04, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Desperate Characters

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Paula Fox
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A-

First published in 1970 and made into an overlooked 1971 film with Shirley MacLaine, this absorbing, elegant short novel tracing a weekend in the life of a numb, upper-middle-class Brooklyn couple is back in print after 14 years. The plot in Desperate Characters, about the anxieties and resentments set in motion when a stray cat suddenly bites the apathetic wife, is irrelevant. What gives this slice of life its timeless urgency is Fox’s spare yet penetrating prose, shifting imperceptibly from present to past, external to internal, revealing the hushed despair, absurdity, and latent violence that lie beneath the most humdrum words and routines. A-

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