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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.
"[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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