“A good novel begins with a small question and ends with a bigger one.” PAULA FOX

April 22, 2013 marks the 90th birthday of novelist Paula Fox, author of DESPERATE CHARACTERS, originally published by W.W. Norton in 1970. The novel fell out of print and was championed by Jonathan Franzen (author of The Corrections and Freedom) — who stumbled upon it in a library — but has been available since 1999 in a new edition with an introduction by Franzen.

Frazen is passionate about DESPERATE CHARACTERS and states in his introduction:  “The first time I read Desperate Characters in 1991, I fell in love with it. It seemed to me obviously superior to any novel by Fox’s contemporaries John Updike, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. It seemed inarguably great.” 


Paula Fox is recipient of the 2013 Hadada Prize from THE PARIS REVIEW. The prize is presented each year to “a distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.” Previous recipients include Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, Philip Roth, and William Styron.

Like Franzen, I stumbled upon DESPERATE CHARACTERS over a decade ago (in my case, the encounter occurred at a Salvation Army thrift shop in Chicago) and was immediately captivated by the novel. If you love literary novels — and, at 176 pages, this is a relatively short one — don’t miss DESPERATE CHARACTERS. At, used copies of the novel are available for as low as 24 cents plus shipping — and you can probably find it at your local library. Enjoy.

Happy 90th birthday, Paula Fox! You are an inspiration to all novelists!