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Indecent Proposal Hardcover – February 7, 1989

4.0 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Arab billionaire Ibrahim Hassan offers Joshua Cantor $1 million if he will allow Hassan to sleep with his beautiful blond wife, Joan. But this ostensibly "indecent proposal" has darker overtones for Cantor, whose parents survived the Holocaust. He's a corporate speech writer with an average salary and he's "tired of being poor." He's also afraid of losing his well-bred wife. Joan has never complained about their financial situation, but now Joshua's whining drives her to consider Hassan's offer. Cantor, of course, is against it; but he's too simplistic in his outlook for a reader to share in his vaguely Faustian plight. In the end, Joshua does emerge as a likable and even memorable character, but along the way, repetitive monologue and frequently trite dialogue bogs down what is not an uninspired idea. Engelhard wrote The Horseman.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.


JACK ENGELHARD had a good idea. For his second novel - "The Horsemen" was the first - he would update the always serviceable legend of Faust to get some modern mileage out of it. Mr. Engelhard also created very contemporary players. Joshua Cantor, a Jewish writer and gambler, who makes a bargain with the Devil (a handsome oil-rich billionaire). The struggle between these two embraces a number of primal issues: the sanctity of marriage versus a love of money, the Jew versus significant non-Jews such as shiksas and sheiks, skill versus luck, materialism versus spirituality, Israel versus the Arab countries, the past versus the future, and the religious world versus the secular one.

Like his hero, Mr. Engelhard is a gambler. Can his slim, trim novel carry that much baggage?

The author even italicizes certain abstract concepts before roping them onto the backs of his characters, whom he then places in opposition. For instance, Joshua is a survivor of both the Holocaust and the 1967 Israeli war. Now, however, he is living a quiet life in Philadelphia, married to a beautiful Main Liner named Joan who has it all, sensuality, grace, humor, blond hair, rich parents, nice lingerie. Everything.

Joshua loves Main Lining. To him Joan is "Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. Joan was more than the American dream...she was America." His only problem is he doesn't have enough money to live in the style he thinks Joan and he deserve. That's why they have to go to Atlantic City so often. Joshua hopes to score a big win that will allow him to quit his crummy job (writing speeches for a corrupt corporation that does business with former Nazis) and live happily and affluently ever after with his golden haired, Bryn Mawr-educated, wide-shouldered, classy wife who deserves the very best.

Enter tall, dark, handsome high roller Ibrahim Hassan - a royal figure from some sandy country - who is betting millions of dollars at a blackjack table cordoned off for his exclusive use in an Atlantic City casino. Hassan, the high roller, sees Joan, the high-typer, and, in devilish fashion, determines to tempt and compromise the happy couple. After a few swift moves, he takes them out to a four-star restaurant and surreptitiously propositions Joan. When she later tells Joshua, he rushes off to confront Hassan, who then offers him a million dollars if he can sleep with Joan for just one night.

In precise, almost clinical language, Mr. Engelhard tracks the changes Joshua and Joan go through after receiving their ungodly offer. Suspicion, jealousy, anger, second-guessing, pain and fear begin to torment them as they struggle with his and hers temptations (his - money, hers - his happiness). It's her body and his soul on the line.

Is this book fun to read? You betcha.

--INDECENT PROPOSAL: The New York Times Book Review, FAUST ON THE BOARDWALK, By Barbara Raskin (March 19, 1989) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; Reprint edition (February 7, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556111118
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556111112
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,865,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Where to start with this book? There was much to enjoy about it--I liked how the author used the protagonist's heritage and experiences to inform his struggle. It wasn't just man against man, it was history against history. But although I started out understanding and sympathizing with the hero, somewhere along the way, I decided that I hated him. Josh is essentially a weak character who stands up for himself only when it doesn't matter, and doesn't take a stand when it does (when it comes to pimping out his wife, for instance). The wife is game for the idea from the very beginning, claiming that it is only sex, etc., but as I was reading I couldn't help wondering why it never occurred to her that Ibrahim's idea of a night of sex might not be the same as hers. How did she know she could trust him? I suppose that was minor consideration when the husband wanted the money and the wife wanted the experience. Anyway, by the end I found all the characters loathsome and thought they deserved every bad thing that happened to them. With that said, the book is absorbing, and I'm sure it is light years better than the pretty-people-in-trouble movie version. The Kindle edition of the book needs better formatting and has several grammatical and spelling errors sprinkled throughout, but since it was free, I can't complain too much.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As I often do with novels I enjoy, I have now read “Indecent Proposal” several times. For me each reading further reveals the skill with which Jack Engelhard developed the plot, subplots, subtexts, themes and characters. The book isn’t “Love Story” with a twist. It’s much more in tune with novels like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity,” complex and dark. It is comparable to some  of the finest works by such under-appreciated contemporary authors as James Salter (“Light Years”) and John Yates (“Revolutionary Road) as well as the more well-known hard-hitting American authors whose entire oeuvres I have also read (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Bellow, Updike, Roth, DeLillo, McCarthy, and others).  

Engelhard’s well-crafted plot, exposition and dialogue - as well as the protagonist’s internal monologue - make Josh Kane, Joan Kane and Ibrahim Hassan (the couple and the rich guy in the book) as memorable and fully realized characters as any I have encountered in contemporary literature. Josh is a flawed “hero,” heroic only in battle, driven by an obsession to erase his memories of immigrant childhood poverty. Ibrahim is an Arab prince, bored with his unlimited wealth, a Machiavellian character with a soul as black as his hair and mustache.  Joan is a stunningly-beautiful woman from a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line family who is happy and satisfied with her middle-class life as Josh’s wife, but she finds herself trapped in a world of two macho men with a deep cultural hatred of each other battling for her “love.” She is the conscience of the story, the "truth-teller," fighting to maintain her individuality but recognizing she must sacrifice some of her basic beliefs and risk her marriage to help her husband resolve his obsession with money.
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I almost didn't download this because the movie was "meh" in my opinion. The book is a hundred times better. The characters are much more complex and sympathetic. Now I'd like to read everything he's written (thanks for making them free on Kindle!).
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As the title of my review implies, this book is very different from the movie as is often the case. I saw the movie as teenager, and didn't even realize it was based on a book. Typically I read a book before watching the movie. This book really makes you think about the issue of sex for money and delves into psyche of the main character. I like romances and happily ever after, and this book doesn't give you that. However, it does really make you think, and for that reason I'd recommend it.
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Raise your hands those of you that remember seeing the 1993 (20 years ago!) angst fest that was Indecent Proposal. Was you Team Woody or Team Robert? Well, treasure those beloved memories because the original story is far different from the wildly popular film adaptation. This book explores so many emotional, historical, societal, and contemporary issues, that it makes the film look positively flat.

We all know the story – apparently happily married couple try their luck in Atlantic City, get propositioned by a billionaire, and deal with the repercussions. However, the novel explores the still relevant issue of Arab vs Israeli conflicts. Joshua is Jewish and has had harrowing experiences of WWII, and Ibrahim (the billionaire) is Arab and has his own views. Although this may sound a strange aspect to write about, it actually adds to the morality tale. It isn’t just simply a question of “would you spend a night with anther person for $1,000,000?” – the different cultural and historical layers all play a part, especially in the aftermath of dealing with fall out from decisions made.

The character development in the book is really strong. Joan and Josh are not two naive high school sweethearts – they’ve been around the block a few times. Throughout, you will (or at least I did) love and hate these characters with equal measure. No one is perfect, and no one is correct all of the time.

This is not a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination. At times it feels so authentic that you feel like you are a fly on the wall. The discomfort is what really makes this novel; the rawness, emotion, morality, faith, lack of faith, missed opportunities, that you witness when reading this novel, is what sets it apart from most other morality tales. Just like real morality and real humans, this tale will take you all kinds of directions – some expected and many not.
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