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Meeting Evil: A Novel Paperback – April 22, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Answering his door one morning, solidly middle-class John Felton finds a scruffy-looking man whose car is in need of a push. Responding helpfully despite his misgivings, John sets in motion a nightmarish series of events in which he becomes the unwitting accomplice of Richie Maranville, a psychotic criminal just released from a mental hospital. During their day-long crime spree, the two develop a curiously symbiotic relationship, with John ultimately discovering the dark, irrational side of himself he has long denied. While almost coming to believe Richie's assertion that they are psychic brothers, he makes a decision in the novel's final scene that lifts him forever above the "moral triviality" of his alter ego. This is a precisely rendered, excruciatingly suspenseful tale of psychological duality. For most collections.
- Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

The worst day in the life of struggling suburban realtor John Felton: from the doorbell's morning ring on through a rising spiral of violence to a teasingly ambiguous midnight climax--when John finally has to deal with the smiling, homicidal nemesis/double responsible for ruining his life. The man at the door, calling himself only Richie, wants John to push his stalled car to the edge of the downgrade; but, later, John doesn't want to walk back up the hill, and while he waits for Richie (who seems somehow deeply unsettling) to give him a lift home, Richie's car gets dented by another car driven by Sharon, who begs John to say he was with her because she has only a learner's permit. Anyway, while the three of them are cooking up stories for the police, Richie's car is stolen, so he asks Sharon and John to give him a ride home, to a village 15 miles away, where the police will shortly have set a roadblock for the perpetrators of breaking and entering, assault and battery, arson, vehicular homicide--all of which John will be a helplessly passive party to. By the time John is finally arrested by the local police, the Rube Goldberg plot seems to have run its course; but it's in the story's second half that suave, enigmatic Berger really goes into a stretch, bringing John back home to find his wife wining and dining Richie in his latest disguise, deaf to his whispered pleas that this man is dangerous, all the while that Richie is doing his own whispering about how alike he and John are--neither of them cares about anybody but himself, so why don't they cut loose and take off forever? The presto agitato first half seems at first no deeper than, say, Ed McBain's Downtown; later, when he raises unsettling questions about the deeper kinship between the psycho and the realtor, Berger still remains noncommittal. The result is by turns exhilarating, disturbing, and finally unsatisfying--as if an amusement-park ride had just dumped you back where you first got on. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (April 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743247035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743247030
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,258,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Berger (1924-2014) was the bestselling author of novels, short stories, and plays, including the Old West classic Little Big Man (1964) and the Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel The Feud (1983). Berger was born in Cincinnati and served with a medical unit in World War II, an experience that provided the inspiration for his first novel, Crazy in Berlin (1958). Berger found widespread success with his third novel, Little Big Man, and has maintained a steady output of critically acclaimed work since then. Several of his novels have been adapted into film, including a celebrated version of Little Big Man. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's Magazine, Esquire, and Playboy.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
Thomas Berger is a master of turning the mundane into nightmare, as he proves once again in Meeting Evil. When John Felton, a real estate salesman, regular guy next door, answers his doorbell early one morning and a stranger with car trouble asks for assistance, he willingly obliges. This is Felton's first mistake.
As the situation escalates into chaos, it is clear that something is very wrong. Ritchie, the stranger, is both obnoxious and obsequious, given to sudden flares of temper. John's go-along personality has gotten him into an untenable situation, one that seems to offer no immediate avenue of escape and Felton is confused about why he is with the volatile Ritchie. John's habitual tentativeness is a great disadvantage, leaving him as vulnerable as the proverbial lamb waiting for slaughter. "He was conscious of a lifetime of urge to do right."
What happens when a rational man finds himself in an ever more dangerous situation, where he is helplessly mired in moral perplexities? As more innocent bystanders are drawn into Ritchie's vortex, it is John's conscience that struggles with escape, at the mercy of a sociopath. Ritchie's escalating violence is intolerable and John Felton's life is seriously out of control.
John must decide if he can maintain his integrity and still remain a passive bystander, caught between adapting to Ritchie's unpredictable impulses and escaping without harm. All Felton's struggles are as yet internal; he is unable to take action for fear of the consequences. "To be no hero is shameful, but taking satisfaction in that state of affairs would be."
This is the story of a family man, a suburban Everyman, spending his days in comfortable rapprochement with his environment, never questioning his ethics in the world at large.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
Meeting Evil is a great book. In it (like in Neighbors and The Houseguest) Berger explores the themes of the limits of hospitality and the shield of insulation that we as members of society build around ourselves. However, in this novel, Berger uses the character of Ritchie to explore the nature of Evil more than he does with any other character. Ritchie's motivations are random and surreal and chaotic in contrast to the overly orderly and logical John Felton. It is as if Berger purposely makes Ritchie as illogical as possible while simultaneously showing John (and the reader)to be completely unprepared to deal with or understand him. Preparation requires logic, and logic is useless in dealing with chaos. Ritchie does not seem as sinister as he does chaotic.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By T. Berner on January 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Of all the major writers in American today, Thomas Berger is the only one who has his feet solidly on the ground. His books - from Little Big Man to Changing the Past - are not only funny, engrossing, intelligent and wise, they are also full of common sense, which is, of course, not common at all, but the rarest of commodities. He also takes his tales, however, and delves deeper into themes which others never consider.

Meeting Evil is the story of John Felton, a rather average guy who gets sucked into a crime spree by a stranger named Richie. John always has good, civilized reasons for letting evil occur and only towards the end does Felton pull himself decisively away from Richie. On one level, this is the novelization of Edmund Burke's warning about good men doing nothing. But as you think through the book, the reader notices something eerie. People keep mistaking John for Richie. Some witnesses see only John. Others think they look alike.

Evil is inside of each of us, Berger is saying, and we are all responsible for removing it from ourselves. How he can turn that message into hilarious, polished prose is what makes Berger unique in American letters and very very special.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Epicure on September 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Berger is one of our great writers who has never quite received the recognition he deserves. Perhaps that's for the best because he has consistently turned out perceptive, hilarious examinations of modern life while maintaining his integrity. "Meeting Evil" is about a good man's encounter with a serial killer. What transpires is an extraordinary black comedy about middle class complacency and how human beings only come to understand the value of what they have when it is placed under threat.
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Format: Preloaded Digital Audio Player
The excellent narration by Bronson Pinchot drew me into this book at the outset: having read no synopsis, based on the title, the story opened as if the "evil" the main character, John, faces is, if not "The Devil" a good stand-in for Lucifer.

As the story progressed, however, Berger seemed to throw far too much into the mix and, in danger of explaining away this diabolical figure, he simply piles on too many conflicting theories. The very convincing opening drifted into more and more unbelievable territory, for me.

It would help, listening to this book, to know absolutely nothing about psychopaths vs. those traumatized in childhood, about mental illness in general or bipolar mental illness in particular (once called manic-depression.) Knowing just a little about these things made me lose faith in the author, as he presented hints that the evil character's evil arises, perhaps, from all of these somewhat incompatible causes.

Berger also couldn't seem to make up his mind about his character John: whether the man is a self-righteous coward, a dazed bourgeois failure, or an everyman who finds some courage late in the day.

It would have been fine to take a fictional ride into an "everyperson" encounter with a diabolical figure, I'll look to see if that book already exists, elsewhere.
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