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).
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 Bernie Gladhart, for one, a former used car salesman and failed author of unpublished books about himself, is writing one about Wright at the insistence of his wife, an obese, sex-crazed, thrice-divorced painter of miniatures who dreams only of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
Any additional comments?
The book is inthralling but if you happen to be having difficulties in your life, you might want to wait on this one. The characters are so rich and so awful. Each one is so self absorbed and really only concerned with his/her own agenda. None of the characters have any love for another.