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What Happened to Sophie Wilder Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 29, 2012
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"What Happened to Sophie Wilder is about many thingsthe New York publishing world, the growing pains of post collegiate life, the rigors of Roman Catholicismbut 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 novelsmart, 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 impulsescreative, intellectual, emotionalof 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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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.
For reasons the reader will not understand for a while--actually may never really understand--Sophie has become a devout Roman Catholic. This is where I think the Marilynne Robinson influence comes into the novel because not only is Beha's style similar to hers--and she did, you recall, receive a Pulitzer!--but so is the subject matter: religion.
This is a novel about faith and doubt, about love, about ambition, all told in elegant prose.
I strongly suspect this novel will be given at least one literary award. And I wouldn't be surprised if it were the Pulitzer. After all, other first-time novelists have won it.
Yes the book moves slow through most of it, but that is its purpose...this is a character study, not a plot driven book. BUT toward the end, things pick up in the plot to create a chemical reaction in the words that bring all the elements together. And that is the beauty of the book...the interweaving of the past and present story lines that come together at the end in a very haunting and chilling fashion. It is an effective way to get to know the characters, if you invest yourself into the book that is.
And I hear a lot of people talk about the religious undertones in the book, but I found that the religious aspects were just apart of the bigger story, along with concepts about friendship, love, writing, etc etc. The story is about these characters and the way their lives weaved together. Everything else is secondary.
1) I gave it four stars because, although I really liked it a lot, there were a couple crucial transitional moments in the story where a touch more brilliance in the writing would have made the book an instant classic, and the absence was felt in my opinion.
2) My interpretation is that the characters in the book are trying to do what the author is trying to do, move beyond the rubble of tradition dismantled by snarky sarcasm and disbelief to something new but meaningful (The timing is perfect as the hipster movement collapses inward). As such, the book attempts to stake out a new literature and I think it largely succeeds. But it means the writing was careful and deliberate, and I think the experience is best when the reading is conducted in the same spirit. Tear through this book at peril of missing nuances of the writing and the story. Pay particular attention to the last few pages, I think there is more going on here than immediately appears.
3) The author was on an NPR interview, fresh air maybe? And I don't think I'd have understood or enjoyed the book as well without it. The interview is not a spoiler and I recommend it in preparation for the book.