The Masterful Paula Fox: Readers’ Workshop Roundup

For this month’s Readers’ Workshop, we read Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters with the goal of paying attention to paragraphs.

So what did we notice? That Fox is a master at dialogue and paragraphing.

Jonathan Franzen agrees. In the novel’s introduction, he calls Fox’s prose a pleasure, and notes that her sentences are “small miracles of compression and specificity, tiny novels in themselves.”

desperateSome may say the title is not catchy enough, but most of the Readers’ Workshop participants agreed that it’s apt. The book is filled with literally desperate characters. (One person mentioned they kept referring to the novel as “Desperate Creatures,”at first accidentally but soon realized they might be on to something).

Even though most of us wanted to have a nice, stiff drink while reading it, we appreciated the writing, how human the characters felt, and the way that Fox moved us. She made us feel uncomfortable, and perhaps even desperate.

And yet some members said they read the novel twice or were in the process of re-reading it. A testament to the odd draw that Fox seems to have on readers – you cause us discomfort and we come back for seconds.

Fox passed away this month, she was 93. Several club members recommended reading the New York Times obituary, and I’m glad I did. Knowing more about her life helped put some of the themes and the setting of the novel in perspective.

This was our third month of reading closely per Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. What have we gotten out of it so far? Some are finding it to be a hard habit to instill – they have to consciously remind themselves to slow down and read closer (myself included). Others have decided to continue reading for plot first and then taking time after finishing a novel to reflect on the writing.

Regardless we are meeting each month and having thoughtful discussions about the novels we read and the writing we are learning to appreciate even more.

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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

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