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Cabot Wright is a promising young man. He is a newly married scion of Wall Street, who would have nothing but bright prospects, were it not for his past conviction for more than 300 rapes. And he is easily the most positive person in a novel crowded with characters whose unique and fascinating lives are almost invariably headed toward a gloomy end. As in other of his novels such as “Malcolm” and “The Nephew”—neither apparently available in audio—James Purdy displays the quietly dazzling craftsmanship of a writer who deserved to be far better known than he was.
The oddballs are legion. Bernie Gladhart, for one, a former used car salesman and failed author of unpublished books about himself, is writing one about Wright at the insistence of his wife, an obese, sex-crazed, thrice-divorced painter of miniatures who dreams only of being married to a successful writer. In Purdy’s works, everyone is an eccentric, and no two are remotely alike.
The book is a merciless mockery of American culture at the midpoint of the 20th century that spares nothing—television, advertising, publishing, politics, religion, race, sex, business. It is hilarious, but darkly so.
Among many other trademark techniques, Purdy is a master of wildly mismatched descriptors, such as that of a man who wears “an expression between hunger and amnesia,” or someone who speaks in a way that is “prayerfully menacing.” Almost every sentence is a complex work of literary genius, and listening his work in audio form is something to savor.
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What did you love best about Cabot Wright Begins?
Great novel simply read.
What other book might you compare Cabot Wright Begins to and why?
American Psycho - Bonfire of the Vanities - but in 1964
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