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What Happened to Sophie Wilder Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 29, 2012

3.3 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


*Minneapolis Star Tribune names What Happened to Sophie Wilder one of the Top Ten Books of the Year

"What Happened to Sophie Wilder is about many things—the New York publishing world, the growing pains of post collegiate life, the rigors of Roman Catholicism—but at its center its a moving meditation on why and for whom we write." —New York Times Book Review

"In this smart short novel What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher R. Beha, a young writer deals with the reappearance and disappearance of the woman he sometimes loved." —Oprah Magazine

"Christopher R. Beha's beautiful, whip-smart first novel . . . is sober, unsentimental and delivered with intelligence and passion." —Washington Post

"What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a remarkable first novel, which should especially be read by those who have given up on contemporary literature. Along with giving them something good to read, it will renew their faith in what literature is capable of achieving." —Commentary

"If What Happened to Sophie Wilder was what it appears to be on first glance -- a simple story about a lovesick writer and his mysterious on-again, off-again girlfriend -- I would not be writing this review. But there is far more to it than that. Enough, perhaps, to make it the best fiction I've read all year."—Journal Star

“[T]his novel is excitingly alert . . . to the ways we understand life in terms of stories, in particular the stories we tell about other people - whether to keep them at a safe distance or to bring them closer to us. More, it's alert to our alertness of this. The story Beha tells about Charlie and Sophie is a convincing contemporary love story, not in spite of its sometimes dizzying self-awareness but, in large part, because of it.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“'What Happened to Sophie Wilder, the first novel by Christopher R. Beha, deserves to be placed in the company of great Catholic fiction by Walker Percy, Graham Greene, Heinrich Boll, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor and Andre Dubus." —San Francisco Catholic

"Christopher Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a wonderful novel—smart, sly and lucid, a story about belief in all its forms that is wholly satisfying and quietly thrilling."
—Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins

"Beha's writing is clean, unpretentious, and commanding in its seeming simplicity. He knits Chralie and Sophie's stories together in a seamless, intricate weave, offering an exploration of just how powerful stories can be." —Foreword Magazine

"A crisis of faith is key to the disappearance of a young woman in Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder (Tin House), which deftly renders the competing impulses—creative, intellectual, emotional—of young writers in New York."—Vogue

Christopher Beha's short but intricately constructed first novel tells the story of two young writers struggling to discover their personal and professional identities, but it's not another excursion through the world of New York's literati. Instead, What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a somber character study focused on the problem of human suffering, the nature of religious belief and the acceptance of moral responsibility.—Shelf Awareness

"Beha’s debut novel (after the memoir The Whole Five Feet) is a thoughtful journey about the place of intellectual curiosity in relation to faith, friendship, and love."—Publishers Weekly

"Complex in structure, plot, and characterization, this promising debut will appeal to fans of literary fiction and the literary scene."—Booklist

"Christopher R Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder manages, somehow,
to read both like an auspicious debut and a veteran achievement: it
offers at once the vivid, old-fashioned pleasures of a classic
bildungsroman and a frighteningly intelligent contemporary take on the
ambitions and limits of storytelling and faith. It's a glass-and-steel
penthouse on a foundation of oak, and the most memorable first novel
I've read in some time."—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction

What Happened to Sophie Wilder is an old fashioned literary novel in
the very best sense--thoughtful and intellectual, moving and
well-wrought. Like its restless, yearning characters, it's not afraid
of the big questions, God and love, work and love, friendship and
love, and yet the solace this impressive debut finds lies as deeply in
the page as in the flesh or the spirit. Beha has managed to produce a
book that is satisfying for anyone who reads in order to live."
—Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life

"What Happened to Sophie Wilder is an imperishable gift of
storytelling, a novel built sturdily of wisdom, beauty, and love.
Christopher R. Beha writes with Jamesian sophistication about the
enduring enigma of our inner lives, and the result is a title
character who will dwell in you always." —William Giraldi, author of Busy Monsters

"It takes courage to write a book placing sincere religious feelings at the very center of contemporary young, urban life. Chris Beha--a writer mature beyond his years--has done just that in What Happened to Sophie Wilder, a modern fable of faith and doubt, ambition and love, written with tender sentiment and striking moral intelligence. Open this book and you'll find the grain of our talk and the soul of our thought rendered at once exotic and utterly recognizable.—Jon Raymond, author of Rain Dragon

"What Happened to Sophie Wilder is subtle, surprising and, finally, urgent.... Expect it to vibrate in your breastbone." —Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[Beha] crafts a suspenseful story full of twists and turns at the same time that he offers believers a way of moving beyond seeing fait as 'an embarrassment to their own reason and intelligence.'" —Rain Taxi

About the Author

Christopher R. Beha is an associate editor at Harper’s Magazine and the author of a memoir, The Whole Five Feet. He contributes frequently to the New York Times Book Review. What Happened to Sophie Wilder is his first novel.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books; 59707th edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935639315
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935639312
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #794,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There are few things as satisfying as a book that leaves you eager to discuss it with another reader. My husband read the book before I did, and upon finishing it, he insisted that I start reading immediately. I didn't quite understand his urgency until I began reading the book. I devoured the book in a few days, excited for each new chapter and development, yet saddened by the dwindling number of remaining pages. When I finished, the characters -- and their choices -- stayed with me. Over the next few days, the book kept coming up in our conversations, as we worked out some of the questions it left us with.

Beha's writing is beautiful. Truth be told: I'm a fast reader, as I tend to skim, but i found myself unwilling to skip a single sentence. Each word seemed to be so thoughtfully chosen; never superfluous, always intentional. As a person far more interested in plot than pretty words, it takes some seriously good writing for me to take notice. Bravo, Mr. Beha.

I can't wait to read his next book. In the meantime, I know I'll read SOPHIE WILDER again.

Buy two copies and give one to a friend. You'll both want to talk about this when you finish reading.
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I don't think there's such a thing as a "must-read" in literature anymore, but Christopher R Beha's debut What Happened To Sophie Wilder is a "should-read." While many of the other reviews have hit on the tender and touching story of the main characters, there are two components of the novel that I personally enjoyed:

- The prose. Beha writes in short sentences and rarely, if ever, uses adjectives/adverbs as a lazy means of description. The novel's choice of words was given careful thought by a master craftsman.

- Religion. I am not religious, but I found Beha's thoughts on salvation to be thought provoking and to have moved me in a way that I found surprising and memorable.
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I predict that Christopher R. Beha will be one of the literary giants of our era. This is a brilliantly executed novel in the best tradition of the literary novel.
Charlie Blakeman, the narrator of approximately half of the novel, met Sophie Wilder, orphaned at eighteen, in a writing class at a small New Jersey college. At the time of the telling of the story, both of them have been published, Sophie with much more success with her collection of short stories than Charlie with his novel. At the time Charlie is living in a large house with his cousin Max Blakeman, a film critic. And there in New York City, they throw lots of parties. Sophie unexpectedly shows up, no longer married to Tom Crane whom she also met at the New Jersey college, a total mismatch. Tom too had lost his parents early in life, one to death in a fire and the other, his father, by abandonment. And that's where Sophie's story--well, a story within a story--takes off: "He [Tom's father whom she meets very unexpectedly] was her character now." (page 122) That is key to this novel, that Tom's father she is fashioning into a fiction, the very father Tom wants nothing to do with.
But the second half of that sentence is important: "and she [Sophie] looked upon him as God looks upon all the benighted."
As I read the novel, I knew the author had an extensive literary background. But I also sensed that he has read Michael Cunningham and Marilynne Robinson, especially "Gideon." But Sophie is a mystery, hence the title of the novel. She appears and disappears, and Charlie Blakeman has concerns about his friend whom he dated seriously while they were in college although Sophie often slept also with other male students and at least one female, a book seller in NYC.
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Christopher Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a well-written and intriguing, if not entirely enjoyable, meditation on creativity, faith, relationships, and coming to terms with one's demons. It tells the story of Charlie Blakeman, a young writer living in New York City, who is struggling to write his second novel, one he hopes will be more successful--and altogether better--than his first.

While a creative writing student in college, he met a fellow writer named Sophie Wilder. More talented and more driven than Charlie, Sophie recommended books for him to read, and she provided a great deal of creative inspiration for him. They spent much of their college days together, reading, writing, walking, and creating threads of stories that each would try to make something of. The two became romantically involved, although Sophie's attentions would wane from time to time, but she'd inevitably return to Charlie. But when a situation causes them to have a more permanent falling out, they go their separate ways, and although Charlie would see Sophie from time to time, they never really spoke for the rest of college.

Nearly a decade later, Sophie returns to Charlie's life, her marriage ended, and armed with a story of how she spent time caring for a dying man with his own secrets. During their time apart, Sophie converted to Catholicism and began attending mass on a daily basis; she looked to the church to provide her guidance and strength. But despite Charlie's wishes, Sophie isn't willing to pick up where they left off, and when she disappears again, Charlie goes looking for her, in an effort to better understand the woman he has always loved.
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