Charles Baxter Saul and Patsy: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780375410291

Saul and Patsy: A Novel

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9780375410291: Saul and Patsy: A Novel

Five Oaks, Michigan is not exactly where Saul and Patsy meant to end up. Both from the East Coast, they met in college, fell in love, and settled down to married life in the Midwest. Saul is Jewish and a compulsively inventive worrier; Patsy is gentile and cheerfully pragmatic. On Saul’s initiative (and to his continual dismay) they have moved to this small town–a place so devoid of irony as to be virtually “a museum of earlier American feelings”–where he has taken a job teaching high school.

Soon this brainy and guiltily happy couple will find children have become a part of their lives, first their own baby daughter and then an unloved, unlovable boy named Gordy Himmelman. It is Gordy who will throw Saul and Patsy’s lives into disarray with an inscrutable act of violence. As timely as a news flash yet informed by an immemorial understanding of human character, Saul and Patsy is a genuine miracle.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Poor Charles Baxter, doomed to be forever thought of as a writer's writer. The languidly plotted Saul and Patsy hardly promises to be his long-awaited breakout novel. It's just too quiet. But for those of us who fervently admire Baxter's prose, that's a selling point. In this tale of a Midwestern marriage, there's lots of time and space for the author to show off his incisive style, studded with the kind of subtle observations that make you stop, laugh, and then feel oddly lanced somewhere in the neighborhood of the soul.

Saul Bernstein has become a high school teacher because he feels a need "to contribute to what he called 'the great project of undoing the dumbness that's been done.'" He and his wife Patsy live in small-town Michigan, where their "love for each other had created a magic circle around themselves that outsiders could not penetrate. No one who had ever met them knew what made the two of them tick; the whole arrangement looked mildly fraudulent." There's a glitch in this idyll, though. One of Saul's students, a mildly retarded boy named Gordy, takes to haunting their house, maybe with malicious intent, maybe not. Gordy hangs around, Saul and Patsy have a baby, and then finally a crisis provokes Saul to decide what kind of man he'd like to be. The novel is, in the end, a portrait not of a marriage, but of an ambivalent, evasive, very funny man. Along the way, we get to know Saul's fed-up wife, his fraudulent brother, and his libidinous mother, who makes this observation of Saul: "As a father, he exhibited great tenderness, which had a touch of vanity in it." It's a classic Baxter aside, at first mildly funny, then barbed with the truth. --Claire Dederer

About the Author:

Charles Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of seven other works of fiction, including Believers, Harmony of the World, and Through the Safety Net. The Feast of Love was a finalist for the National Book Award.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

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