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Saul and Patsy: A Novel Hardcover – September 9, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Poor Charles Baxter, doomed to be forever thought of as a writer's writer. The languidly plotted Saul and Patsy hardly promises to be his long-awaited breakout novel. It's just too quiet. But for those of us who fervently admire Baxter's prose, that's a selling point. In this tale of a Midwestern marriage, there's lots of time and space for the author to show off his incisive style, studded with the kind of subtle observations that make you stop, laugh, and then feel oddly lanced somewhere in the neighborhood of the soul.

Saul Bernstein has become a high school teacher because he feels a need "to contribute to what he called 'the great project of undoing the dumbness that's been done.'" He and his wife Patsy live in small-town Michigan, where their "love for each other had created a magic circle around themselves that outsiders could not penetrate. No one who had ever met them knew what made the two of them tick; the whole arrangement looked mildly fraudulent." There's a glitch in this idyll, though. One of Saul's students, a mildly retarded boy named Gordy, takes to haunting their house, maybe with malicious intent, maybe not. Gordy hangs around, Saul and Patsy have a baby, and then finally a crisis provokes Saul to decide what kind of man he'd like to be. The novel is, in the end, a portrait not of a marriage, but of an ambivalent, evasive, very funny man. Along the way, we get to know Saul's fed-up wife, his fraudulent brother, and his libidinous mother, who makes this observation of Saul: "As a father, he exhibited great tenderness, which had a touch of vanity in it." It's a classic Baxter aside, at first mildly funny, then barbed with the truth. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Despite its title, this searching, reflective novel is less concerned with couplehood than it is with the fretful inner life of one half of the eponymous married pair. Saul Bernstein, a literary descendant of Bellow's Herzog, is a transplanted Baltimore Jew, observing his newfound hometown-the "dusty, luckless" fictional city of Five Oaks, Mich.-with an ill-at-ease hyperawareness. Young-marrieds Saul and Patsy move to Five Oaks from Evanston, Ill., when Saul is hired to teach at the local high school. They rent a farmhouse, where they make love in every room and even in the backyard, settling into the rhythms of domestic life. Patsy, a former modern dancer who finds work as a bank teller, gives birth to a daughter, and with infinite patience tolerates her "professional worrier" of a husband. The narrative is dense with quotidian detail, precisely charted shifts of consciousness and pitch-perfect moments of emotional truth, but Baxter (The Feast of Love; Believers, etc.) doesn't have full control of the novel's architecture. The narrative crests occasionally on signs and wonders (early on, Saul has a spiritual epiphany after sighting an albino deer), but turns on the inexplicable suicide of Saul's illiterate, inarticulate student, Gordy Himmelman. Blamed by some for the boy's death, Saul must struggle against real community hostility instead of imagined anti-Semitism. Resolutely, he refuses to give up on his adopted Midwestern hometown, bringing this luminously prosaic if sometimes meandering novel to a quietly triumphant conclusion.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (September 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375410295
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375410291
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,344,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is so extraordinary -- I am a fan of Charles Baxter's and was waiting for it, but had no idea what a massive, exciting, heartrending, and gripping story it would be. This is much more than a family story, or a love story, or a beautiful, complex portrait of a marriage, though it's all those things. It's the story of our time and our embattled world. It's an examination, via the lives of a few small-town characters, of a world where terrorism and the spirits of mischief run wild. Love and destructiveness, the desire for happiness and the desire to do damage, the longing for the perfect lives we imagine others to have, and the harm we are willing to do them because of these imaginings...it's all in here.
The characters are so human, the observations about them so wonderfully written and so full of depth and surprises. This novel is a masterpiece, a permanent work of literature. It makes demands on you, but is incredibly gripping. It also has a brilliant, inventive structure that reinforces the themes and events of the book. I was up very late with it, and finished it with such happiness that I had to tell someone (you, whoever you are, who are reading this!) I'm writing this because I long to discuss it with someone, but don't want to give away any of the intricate turns of plot and the great connections.
Oh, lucky readers who get to experience this for the first time, lovers of great fiction, do yourself a favor and read this book!
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Format: Paperback
I have no doubt that Charles Baxter will be noted as one of our most thoughtful and philosophic American writers of this time period. He has moved impressively from short story collections (my experience with his work started with _A Relative Stranger_) to a full-blown novelist. Even from his first novel, _First Light_, Baxter has shown a great mixture of a kind of old-school character depth, with high school teachers able to discuss railroad companies and quote classics in normal conversation, mixed in with a clearly modern sense of the world. His characters remind me somewhat of people who occupy Tony Hoagland poems--people who seem to be stuck in a netherworld of intelligentsia and down-home simplicity. _The Feast of Love_ was a good choice as a finalist for an NBA--perhaps it should have won, but I haven't yet read the competition and winner.

But this novel doesn't ring out like other works, and it seems to spend too long mulling about with little engagement. I almost regret saying these things, and almost feel that I need to rethink my priorities, that maybe I've become a jaded or oversimplified reader, for I very nearly put down this book after about forty pages because I was feeling that Baxter was a little more invested in the young couple that is the primary focus of this book than he was able to convey to me.

To tell the truth, the only thing that really brought me back to this book to gut it out and read through the rest is that the back cover promised some violence, something I would not have predicted from my initial experience in the reading.

Now I really feel ashamed. Baxter is such a wonderful writer, who is able to take the oft-used gimmick of quirkiness and use it to his advantage.
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By A Customer on November 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Yes, I agree with the other reviewers that Baxter displays a keen sense of language and there are occasional light touches that made me snicker. However, the problem for me is that I don't give a hoot for Saul and this feeling remains unchanged by the end of the book. When I turned the last page, I was just glad to be done with a boring book.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Baxter is a writer whose books I have seen in bookstores, but until recently I had not read, with perhaps the exception of one of his short stories. Friends suggested some of his books, particularly THE FEAST OF LOVE, and I purchased a few titles, including his most recent novel SAUL AND PATSY. I had heard from some of these friends that SAUL AND PATSY was not as good as some of his other works, but now that I have started THE FEAST OF LOVE, I think I am seeing that "not as good" Charles Baxter is better than much of what is available.

Readers who enjoy strong character based novels should enjoy SAUL AND PATSY. The plot revolves around a young couple Saul and Patsy who reside in a Midwestern town. Neither are locals and the two have to adjust to a different way of life. We see the couple transition from enjoying the freedom of being a young married couple still in love to the responsibilities of parenthood. We see Saul's somewhat neurotic manner as contrasted to Patsy, who in general is freer to be herself. Saul is aware of prejudices about his Jewishness, even if the prejudice is somewhat disguised. While their lives should change drastically when their first child is born, a series of bizarre events involving a troubled young man are what really change the two.

There are some characters in the book that could probably be deleted, and at times can be somewhat distracting, but in the end they do help us come to know Saul who is the strongest character in the book. Readers who enjoy plot-driven novels should be aware that the pace of the novel is probably its weakest point. In the hands of other writers, the tension would probably have developed earlier, and the resolution would be somewhat clearer. Yet of the action of the novel was faster paced, the richly developed characters would probably be less developed.
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