Sunday Morning! “Desperate Characters” by Paula Fox

Rufus F.

Rufus is a likeable curmudgeon. He has a PhD in History, sang for a decade in a punk band, and recently moved to NYC after nearly two decades in Canada. He wrote the book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (2021).

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13 Responses

  1. LeeEsq
    Ignored
    says:

    I just finished reading Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld by the true crime writer T.J. English. It is about how the business end of jazz and the early commercial music industry was basically run by mobsters. Literature might focus a lot on the bourgeois but modern society also has a big attraction to people who live in the dangerous part of society and lead some very violent, hedonistic and decidedly non-bourgeois life. Its why shows like Peaky Blinders, Broadwalk Empire, and the entire gangster image in hip=hop are or were popular.

    One classic bourgeois cultural anxiety is that we are all a bunch of softies, and I was raised in the bourgeois world so I know this, and that we can be crushed from either above or below at a moment’s notice. There is also a suspicions that people living on the edges of life, especially the bottom edges but also the top edges, are more real and authentic than the bourgeois. The result is a tendency to give the criminal underworld a certain allure.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Right! It’s been a while since I read Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus, but I think I remember him talking a little about it there too. Really I get the feeling anything to do with city nightlife had a large mob element at one time.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:


        It is basically a relic of Prohibition. Night clubs are a great way to distribute illegal alcohol and that was a practical Godsend to the mob. That jazz was exploding and public morals were liberalizing during the 1920s just made things easier. Once Prohibition stayed away, the Mob-night life connection remained.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
          Ignored
          says:

          On a related note, I was researching a nearby building, the Louis N. Jaffe Theater on Second Avenue where Jackie Curtis lived and then Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz had a flat. In the 40s, there was apparently a drag club there, co-owned by Anna Genovese, the estranged wife of Vito, who was in love with a drag king there. It was quite a story, and no surprise to find out HBO is working on a series about her.Report

  2. Doctor Jay
    Ignored
    says:

    You know, your description of your own relatives makes me wonder if this isn’t some sort of Imposter Syndrome thing. They aren’t quite sure how they got here, and are afraid that it will all collapse.

    These books from the 60’s and 70’s about the emptiness of suburbia/bourgeoisie/middle class/etc also though seem a bit like wish fulfillment. I mean, I know poor people. They aren’t more noble, they just have less money.

    Everyone’s life is empty until they figure out how to fill it with something.Report

  3. Saul Degraw
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    says:

    Brownstone Brooklyn was in a weird spot in the 1970s because it is when people priced out of the Village discovered they could buy a fixer-upper Brownstone for 20K. It was the very start or what would later be called gentrification.

    The problem with bourgeois is that the term is too malleable. There is lots of polling which informs that the most consistently liberal (social and economic) voters in the United States are bougie, college educated professionals. As far as I can tell, everyone hates this fact including the bougie liberals themselves.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Ah, late 70s looking at places in Hoboken with my aunt and uncle. Walking distance to the PATH station. Some of it had been gentrified and the police patrolled heavily and responded quickly. Three blocks away and the police didn’t go. If you guessed right about which way the gentrification was going to spread, you could buy a structurally sound building with a view of the whole Manhattan skyline for peanuts and start renovating. Might have jumped at it except there was no way my wife-to-be would live there.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Yeah, I remember a passage in… I think it was Low Life by Lucy Sante about how most of what people call “gentrification” was already happening in Greenwich Village before the first world war, which stuck with me. Really, just buy a cheap house, fix it up, and wait- congrats, you’re a gentrifier.

      When I think of “bourgeois,” I think of my former in-laws, who lived every stereotype, were well-educated and well-to-do, and indeed very culturally and economically liberal. The only point of disconnect came when we started looking to move to a “steel town,” because man did my MIL disdain working poor people- but only in practice! Not in theory!Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      The inner parts of London also started gentrifying at the same time after their post-World War I to 1960s decay. Basically gentrification is driven by upper middle class people that don’t want to move to the suburbs.Report

  4. Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I did not know who Colleen Hoover was until yesterday and yet she apparently dominates the bestseller lists. https://slate.com/culture/2022/08/colleen-hoover-books-it-ends-with-us-verity.html

    “The blandness of Hoover’s characters makes them easy for anyone to identify with, and the smooth, featureless quality of her prose makes her novels easy to breeze through in a day or two. They are built of clichés, which is not necessarily a drawback in romance fiction, where the deployment of familiar devices feels comforting. This also appeals to people who view themselves as nonreaders because they lack the patience for or interest in literary prose. For such readers, C.S. Lewis once wrote, cliché makes reading effortless because:

    … it is immediately recognizable. ‘My blood ran cold’ is a hieroglyph of fear. Any attempt, such as a great writer might make, to render this fear concrete in its full particularity, is doubly a chokepear to the unliterary reader. For it offers him what he doesn’t want, and offers it only on the condition of his giving to the words a kind and degree of attention which he does not intend to give. It is like trying to sell him something he has no use for at a price he does not wish to pay.

    Hoover never, for example, wastes words in conjuring a sense of place or atmosphere. She might set a novel in Boston or San Francisco or upstate New York, settings chosen seemingly at random, and with a minimum of research. There’s no such thing as local color in Hooverland. Hilariously, in It Ends With Us, she has two teenagers in a small Maine town discuss their desire to move to Boston, where the people talk in such a funny way, saying “cah” instead of “car”—as if Mainers don’t pronounce the word similarly, with an even heavier Yankee accent.”

    There is something ironic about the fact that unliterary books dominate bookselling.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Is it really ironic though? The best selling books are going to have the most crowd appeal. Most people do not read for art and do not necessarily like literary fiction that plays with language. What they want is the book equivalent of a TV series or blockbuster movie and plenty of authors are out there to give it to them.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      I’m not sure if this writer does it, but there was an article going around recently about novelists using AI for descriptions because they found it such tedious work. Which seems like a better answer would be to make it an “internal” story and not worry about the color of the drapes.Report

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