Desperate Characters is a novel written by Paula Fox in 1970 and published by W.W. Norton & Company. The novel mainly revolves around the story of Sophie and Otto Brentwood. They are a middle-class and middle-aged couple who are wealthy and of a high social status but trapped in a marriage where they both feel no love for each other and also have no children. Otto Brentwood works as an attorney and Sophie is a translator of books. Their relationship disintegrates throughout the book as they have nothing that holds them together but their relationship is also affected by the urban crime and vandalism that they face in their local community. These crimes leave the loveless couple feeling helpless and scared continuously. The couple then start to develop a fragile psychological mindframe and their interactions with their friends is also distorted. The couple realise throughout the book how little they understand the world and community which surrounds them, and each other.
The book was written by the author to portray the social class divide in the 1960s and how some lived very well and others in a state of poverty. However, the author wanted to portray that the middle-class were not 'untouchable' and were also susceptible to crime such as vandalism as this is the reflection of the society that they live in - one of despair and poverty. The author wanted to highlight the struggles of the average person and portray the middle class' life as not being one of constant happiness and wealth, but rather a shattered existence.
The book was received well by critics and fans alike. In fact, Jonathan Franzen called the book the greatest realist novel of the postwar era and Irvin Howe classified the book as a 'major American tradition'. The book was also made into a full feature film in 1971.