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Cabot Wright Begins, first published in 1964, may be one of the most neglected masterpieces in post-World War II American literature. Cabot Wright is a handsome, Yale-educated stockbroker and scion of a good family. He also happens to be the convicted rapist of nearly three hundred women. Bernie Gladhart is a naive used-car salesman from Chicago, who--spurred on by his ambitious wife--decides to travel to Brooklyn and write the Great American Novel about the recently paroled Cabot Wright. As Bernie tries to track down Wright in Brooklyn, he encounters a series of bizarre and Dickensian characters and sets in motion an extraordinary chain of events. In this merciless and outrageous satire of American culture, cult writer James Purdy is unsparing and prophetic in his portrayal of television, publishing, Wall Street, race, urban poverty, sex, and the false values of American culture in a work compared to Candide by Susan Sontag. Considered too scabrous for the stifling culture mores of the early 1960s, Purdy's comic fiction evokes "an American psychic landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation" (New York Times).
"Eleven stories and a novella" which are psychological fictions concerning society in the 20th century.
Collected here for the first time are the complete short stories of "a singular American visionary" (New York Times). The publication of The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy is a literary event that marks the first time all of James Purdy's short stories--fifty-six in number, including seven drawn from his unpublished archives--have been collected in a single volume. As prolific as he was unclassifiable, James Purdy was considered one of the greatest--and most underappreciated--writers in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. Championed by writers as diverse as Dame Edith Sitwell, Gore Vidal, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Carl Van Vechten, John Cowper Powys, and Dorothy Parker, Purdy's vast body of work has heretofore been relegated to the avant-garde fringes of the American literary mainstream. His unique form and variety of style made the Ohio-born Purdy impossible to categorize in standard terms, though his unique, mercurial talent garnered him a following of loyal readers and made him--in the words of Susan Sontag--"one of the half dozen or so living American writers worth taking seriously." Purdy's journey to recognition came with as much outrage and condemnation as it did lavish praise and lasting admiration. Some early assessments even dismissed his work as that of a disturbed mind, while others acclaimed the very same work as healing and transformative. Purdy's fiction was considered so uniquely unsettling that his first book, Don't Call Me by My Right Name, a collection of short stories all reprinted in this edition, had to be printed privately in the United States in 1956, after first being published in England. Best known for his novels Malcolm, Cabot Wright Begins, Jeremy's Version, and Eustace Chisholm and the Works, Purdy captured an America that was at once highly realistic and deeply symbolic, a landscape filled with social outcasts living in crisis and longing for love, characterized by his dark sense of humor and unflinching eye. Love, disillusionment, the collapse of the family, ecstatic longing, sharp inner pain, and shocking eruptions of violence pervade the lives of his characters in stories that anticipate both "David Lynch and Desperate Housewives" (Guardian). In "Color of Darkness," for example, a lonely child attempts to swallow his father's wedding ring; in "Eventide," the anguish of two sisters over the loss of their sons is deeply felt in the summer heat; and in the gothic horror of "Mr. Evening," a young man is hypnotized and imprisoned by a predatory old woman. These stories and many others, both haunting and hilarious, form a canvas of deep desperation and immanent sympathy, as Purdy narrates "the inexorable progress toward disaster in such a way that it's as satisfying and somehow life-affirming as progress toward a happy ending" (Jonathan Franzen). It may have taken over fifty years, but American culture is finally in sync with James Purdy. As John Waters writes in his introduction, Purdy, far from the fringe, has "been dead center in the black little hearts of provocateur-hungry readers like myself right from the beginning."
"[S]o good that almost any novel you read immediately after it will seem at least a little bit posturing." --Jonathan Franzen No James Purdy novel has dazzled contemporary writers more than this haunting tale of unrequited love in an indifferent world. A seedy depression-era boarding house in Chicago plays host to "a game of emotional chairs" (The Guardian) in a novel initially condemned for its frank depiction of abortion, homosexuality, and life on the margins of American society. A cast of characters displaced by economic distress congeal around the embittered poet Eustace Chisholm, who acts as a something of a Greek chorus for the doomed and destructive relationship that is instigated when landlord Daniel Haws falls in love with young college student Amos Ratcliffe. Building to a shocking conclusion, Eustace Chisholm and the Works is a dark and gothic look at the strange and terrible power of love amid a "psychic American landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence, and isolation" (William Grimes, New York Times).
The twenty-first-century revival of James Purdy continues with his classic novel of innocence and corruption. Introduced simply as "the boy on the bench," the titular character of Malcolm is a Candide-like figure who is picked up by the "most famous astrologer of his period" and introduced to a series of increasingly absurd characters and bizarre situations in "the most prodigiously funny book to streak across these heavy-hanging times" (Dorothy Parker).
A melancholy sense of time, age and the slow shift of relations and illusions in a small community pervades this story which centers around Alma, a newly-retired schoolteacher, and her brother Boyd, whose uneventful small town old age together consists chiefly in concern for their nephew, Cliff, now in the Army. When Cliff is reported missing in action, Alma, needing something to do, decides to write a memorial of his life. This project, viewed with varying degress of pity and alarm by her neighbors, gradually involves them all: Faye Baird, living with her mad old TV-watching mother; Clara Himbaugh, a proselytizing Christian Scientist; Willard Baker, the ne'er-do-well homosexual son of a doctor who keeps a tense young man named Vernon; Professor Mannheim, who once taught Cliff, and is reputed to have led a scandalous off-campus life; and rich, intelligent Mrs. Barrington, who at ninety is still the town's deus ex machina. Alma's investigation, which reveals some disturbing facts about Cliff's short life, reveals even more about the quiet griefs and pasts of her aging contemporaries, and eventually she drops the whole project- in favor of living out this complex daily life she has never really known....
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