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A Disorder Peculiar to the Country: A Novel Hardcover – July 3, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (July 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060501405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060501402
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,062,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's a familiar New York story: Joyce and Marshall Harriman's divorce battle escalates from a skirmish to a full-fledged territorial conflict, as both sue for custody of their coveted Brooklyn Heights co-op, and consequently they must both continue to inhabit it—along with their two small children, "their divorce's civilian casualties." Minor acts of domestic terrorism have become an unavoidable part of their daily lives, so when September 11 happens, neither is immediately very jarred. In fact, each thinks the other dead, and celebrates. Far from putting things into perspective, the tragedy and aftermath become a queasily hilarious counterpoint to the ongoing war to divide Joyce and Marshall's assets. Their pettiness reaches continuously lower depths – spying, psychological warfare and even anthrax comes into play. Joyce seduces Marshall's best friend, and Marshall sabotages Joyce's sister's wedding. The Harrimans enact the country's problems on their pathetically personal scale, but the novel miraculously manages to avoid patness or bombast. As in Jay McInerney's recent The Good Life, Kalfus puts 9/11 up against the steel-plated narcissism of New Yorkers—with very different, and very funny, results. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Like their country, Marshall and Joyce Harriman, a Brooklyn Heights couple, are at war. They are one year into an impossibly bitter divorce, and their hatred for one another has "acquired the intensity of something historic, tribal, and ethnic." When Joyce watches the destruction of the World Trade Center she is seized by a "great gladness," because Marshall works on the eighty-sixth floor of the south tower. But he escapes to fight another day in the apartment that neither will relinquish, home to their two young children—"their divorce's civilian casualties." Kalfus skewers the pieties surrounding 9/11, but, having set his black comedy in the shadow of that national trauma, he reverently charts the powerful sway that world events briefly held over the lives of individual Americans. As an Afghan émigré doctor who treats a rash Marshall develops after his escape observes, "Now you know what it's like to live in history."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker - click here to subscribe.

More About the Author

Ken Kalfus is the author of two collections of short stories and three novels, including "A Disorder Peculiar to the Country," a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. His collection, "Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies," was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2000, and the title story, "Pu-239," was the basis for the HBO movie of the same name. His new novel, "Equilateral," was published in 2013.

Customer Reviews

It's just ok, easier to follow than many others, but some parts are absolutely ridiculous.
Jesse
What we're instead given are pretty ordinary acts of selfish pettiness that likely occur in any number of divorces every day.
raynerts
I absolutely hated this book and ultimately left it on the subway rather than waste my time trying to resell it.
Jennifer M. Corby

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Taggart Murphy on February 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviews that label this as 'uneven'. I found both the 9/11 materials and the divorce storyline compelling and the characters interesting; Marshall's breakdown was good stuff. The ending has three baffling elements to it [BRUTAL SPOILERS!], the a) shifting point of view to the daughter (whose tone is not distinct enought to render it believable), b) episode at the party which, COME ON!, does this odd set-piece really fit with the rest of this novel?, and c) the alternate reality ending which effective vaporized much of the rest of the resonance of the book. I stayed up late reading the end of this and was ready to toss it off my deck at the end. As I say, the wheels come off.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. B. on August 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
Ken Kalfus is a great writer. I don't understand where all the bad and so-so reviews are coming from. I found myself laughing out loud throughout almost the entire book. Who cares if the characters were annoying, crazy, or cynical? Don't tell me you couldn't relate to them, or at least know someone like them. This book is so funny because it is so real. The dialogue is spot on.

If you enjoy the writings of Nick Hornby or Jonathan Safran Foer, then I bet you would like this book too.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By City Girl on October 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Everything about this book was unexpected and revealing. Kalfus shatters our ideas about heroism in the wake of tragedy and shows in hilarious detail how we can't help but be who we are: a nation of self-obsessed individuals who only contend with the world around when our own inner turmoil doesn't get in the way. You have to read this book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Colleen10014 on November 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Joyce and Marshall Harriman might be the only two New Yorkers who have a reason to celebrate on September 11, 2001. Joyce was supposed to be traveling in one of the hijacked planes and Marshall worked in the South Tower. Each expects the other to be dead, but out of sheer luck, both of them survive--much to the disappointment of the other, since the couple is going through a bitter divorce. Forced to stay together in the post 9-11 New York, the Harrimans live a nightmare that Kalfus deftly and bravely turns into the blackest of comedies.

The author, in my opinion, makes two mistakes that nearly ruin what otherwise would be an outstanding novel: he makes Joyce a willing participant in Marshall's attempt to stage a suicide bombing in their apartment. That Marshall would be pushed to such an action is believable; that Joyce would try to help him kill himself, her, and their two children is not.

But the biggest mistake is the ending. While most of the novel takes place in a New York that we remember well, Kalfus makes the very bizarre decision to set the ending in a historical background that is entirely fake. It's a shame, because until then I believed the characters (except for the scene mentioned above) and thought they were well set in New York and in that specific and troubled historical time. But when I got to the end, with its bizarre events in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, I just thought, "huh?"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The attacks of September 11th happened almost thirteen years ago. And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq followed shortly after. That three year period, 2001-2004, was difficult and sad for everyone, but I think especially so for those people directly involved in the attacks.

A friend recently suggested that I read Ken Kalfus's novel from 2005 called "A Disorder Peculiar to The Country". After starting it, I realised that I had read it when it was first published. I remember liking it then, but now, so many years later, the book seemed even better. Kalfus really captures the mood of the time with his story of a divorcing couple laid low by the interminable divorce process and then the aftermath of the attacks.

Thirtyish couple Joyce and Marshall Harriman were in the middle of their divorce on September 11th, 2001. They lived in Brooklyn and were still sharing a two bedroom/one bathroom apartment with their two little children. Neither would move out of the apartment and the mood was one of bitterness between the two. Kalfus gives no real reason the two are divorcing; I guess they just fell out of love and into hate. Joyce was supposed to be on the Newark/San Francisco flight for business but her trip was cancelled at the last minute. Marshall was actually in the second tower, on the way to his office, when the plane struck the building. He had a harrowing escape from the 44th floor of the building.

Remember the mood in late 2001? Along with the terrorist attacks, anthrax-laced letters were being sent to offices in New York, Washington, and Florida. Several people were killed in the anthrax attacks.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jesse on March 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's just ok, easier to follow than many others, but some parts are absolutely ridiculous. Had to read it for school, so that's all I got
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By KS on November 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful and gripping comic novel in which events of recent times (the novel opens on Sept. 11, 2001) are entwined with a bitter divorce battle. The divorcing couple becomes a metaphor for the warring civilizations (they can't even rememebr anymore why they're at war) and just when you worry there's no way to wrap it up coherently, Kalfus comes up with a truly brilliant ending. One of the best new novels I have read in years.

BTW, this has one of the tackiest cover designs I have ever seen. Please DON'T judge this book by its cover.
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