Prosperous Friends

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Described by John Ashbery as “pared down but rich, dense, fevered, exactly right and even eerily beautiful,” Christine Schutt’s prose has earned her comparisons to Emily Dickinson and Eudora Welty. In her new novel, Schutt delivers a pitch-perfect, timeless and original work on the spectacle of love.

Prosperous Friends follows the evolution of a young couple’s marriage as it is challenged by the quandaries of longing and sexual self-discovery. The glamorous and gifted Ned ...

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Prosperous Friends

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Described by John Ashbery as “pared down but rich, dense, fevered, exactly right and even eerily beautiful,” Christine Schutt’s prose has earned her comparisons to Emily Dickinson and Eudora Welty. In her new novel, Schutt delivers a pitch-perfect, timeless and original work on the spectacle of love.

Prosperous Friends follows the evolution of a young couple’s marriage as it is challenged by the quandaries of longing and sexual self-discovery. The glamorous and gifted Ned Bourne and his pretty wife, Isabel, travel to London, New York, and Maine in hopes of realizing their artistic promise, but their quest for sexual fulfillment is less assured. Past lovers and new infatuations, doubt and indifference threaten to bankrupt the marriage. The Bournes’ fantasies for their future finally give way to a deepened and mature perspective in the company of an older, celebrated artist, Clive Harris, and his wife, Dinah, a poet. With compassionate insight, Schutt explores the divide between those like Clive and Dinah who seem to prosper in love and those like Ned and Isabel who feel themselves condemned to yearn for it.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Ron Charles
Know some young engaged couple who shouldn't get married? Wrap up a copy of Prosperous Friends and toss it into the bridal shower like a molotov cocktail. Christine Schutt's artful little novel is mixed from crushed hopes and laced with the essence of despair. No one who opens it could walk down the aisle untroubled. But at least the chastened lovers will have something good to read…Like Schutt's two previous novels, Prosperous Friends is relatively short, but the poetic concision and allusiveness of her prose give the story more heft than a mere 200 pages would suggest. Pared almost to the point of stinginess, her sentences never waste a phrase or even a word.
Publishers Weekly
Ned and Isabel are married, but other than a college courtship that neither ever felt like ending, their relationship appears to be more of a habit than a romance. Isabel is sad a lot. Ned, a writer, appears to have tried his hardest to make things better, but as everyone, including the doomed couple, knows, “There may be cures to loneliness but marriage is not one of them.” The emotional tug of war that Ned and Isabel find themselves fighting, though not necessarily always on opposite sides of the rope, drives this poignant novel. Schutt (Florida) creates a noteworthy texture with what she withholds. Little backstory is provided and what does contextualize Ned and Isabel’s relationship comes piecemeal, over time, pushing the reader toward a more active engagement of imagining all that isn’t quite explained. The technique is effective, making for abrupt juxtapositions, vivid moments, and terse language, the sum of which feels fittingly reflective of the relationship itself. No one in the book seems quite sure why sometimes the bits and pieces of life and of love meld over time into one definable shape while others remain disparate and fractured. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman. (Nov.)
From the Publisher


"Sinewy, unsentimental . . . Schutt depicts [Isabel's] rattled consciousness with quick, painterly strokes—a glancing, impressionistic style that owes a happy debt to Virginia Woolf. . . . Schutt has formed genuine moments of beauty and hope."—The Wall Street Journal

"[Schutt] has honed a language that feels wholly hers: a carefully cadenced poetic prose that warrants being read reverently, aloud. . . . Prosperous Friends proves Schutt to be one of the finest stylists alive. . . . Reading Schutt's prose is like listening to music: beneath its manifest meaning, her language is full of ther, ineffable messages, encrypted in rhythms and melodies. . . . It isn't so much that Schutt succeeds in making order from chaos—she knows that she can't, we can't, no one can. So she says, once you've failed, go on living: make order from failure."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"A disposition to illuminate peaks of cognizance amid humdrum circumstances invests Schutt's latest novel, Prosperous Friends with an almost electrical charge. . . . Schutt has a delicate eye for the visceral. Like a Pre-Raphaelite painter, she shines unnatural light on natural things to disconnect and unbalance viewers. . . . In her brevity and elevated pitch, her sentences sound ready to pounce upon intimate disclosure. Like [Henry] James, Schutt penetrates to the core energies of human drama with a pointillist's touch; feeling is lent graceful shape, less readily apprehensible, but ultimately more incisive. . . . Prosperous Friends presses adventurously against mere telling's quotidian restrictions and attempts to enact 'the lyrical impulses of the soul.'"—Bookforum

"Prosperous Friends was another revelation this year, a devastating story of young love, old love, and no love, written with a razor, it would seem, on living skin."—The New Yorker (Best Books of 2012, P.S.)

"With terse sentences that read like poetry, Schutt strips each scene of excess context and cuts to the heart of the moment. Her prose evokes emotions more vital to the novel: frustration and despair juxtaposed with understanding and desire. The characters instantly come to life with a clever turn of phrase or a well-crafted sentence. . . . In a collection of carefully thought-out moments, Schutt's haunting yet lyrical words linger long after the final page."—Los Angeles Times

“Artful . . . Astonishing . . . Piercingly real . . . The poetic concision and allusiveness of [Schutt’s] prose give the story more heft than a mere two-hundred pages would suggest. . . . Her sentences never waste a phrase or even a word. In these finely cut scenes . . . Schutt deals killing blows with such short, precise movements that at first you barely register the wound.”—The Washington Post

"By turn poetically mesmeric and brutally unsentimental . . . [Schutt] beguiles us with . . . forensic attention to detail. . . . Schutt's writing dazzles while it disorients. This is a beautiful but disquieting novel about broken vows and hearts."—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"[A] powerful work of craftsmanship . . . While her sentences are lyrical and flowing—she is perhaps the single best practitioner of the acoustical clustering technique described as 'consecution'—her scenes tend to be stripped down and brutally juxtaposed. . . . Prosperous Friends is intimate and alien as a dream. Like poerty, it rewards careful reading, and though brief, the questions it raises linger, unanswerable and self-complicating."—The New York Observer

"Lovely and unpredictable . . . An unsettling book that is by turns grim, scathing, and droll. Watching it unfold in the presence of an author who is part poet and part sculptor is its own reward."—Portland Press Herald

"Christine Schutt's slender yet powerful novel examines modern love with a poet's insight."—Barnes & Noble Review

"Schutt is a writers writer whose elegant prose seems like chiseled diamond."—Library Journal

"Prosperous Friends is masterful, a comic-tragic astonishment. Christine Schutt continues to write some of the most original and rewarding prose I've ever read."—Sam Lipsyte

"Delicate prose, fearless storytelling...exquisitely wrought...Schutt lets readers feel the yearning sadness of a love that never quite happens...spare but lyrical."—Chapter 16 Blog

"Feeding off Chekhov, Wilder, O'Neill, and the emotional electricity of live theater, Christine Schutt stages her own brand of parlor drama in Prosperous Friends. . . . Schutt prodes prosperity's margin of error: free spirits who've pissed away entire legacies, scions sweating out trusts and entanglements, and fatalistic women who leverage sex and cohabitation as a means to financial security. With its well-bred, art-damaged Gothicism—and a bewitching knack for appearing both full-frontal and oblique—Schutt's prose may have no closer counterpart than the lyrics of P. J. Harvey. . . . At root, Prosperous Friends may be a knotty comedy or a confounding dramawhich is, in all likelihood, the living truth."—Paste

“No one writes sentences like Christine Schutt. Prosperous Friends is sure to be her masterwork. Like Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Schutt’s por¬trait of a young couple in ruins is exquisitely beautiful, stunningly resonant, and so minutely and vividly observed you feel devastated at its close. With Prosperous Friends, Schutt takes her place among the best writers of our time.”—Kate Walbert

“Why do we love one, and not another? Christine Schutt's beautifully telegraphic prose goes to the heart of a question posed in scenes and moments so real and exquisitely framed that the reader enters her vision completely. Elliptical, haunting, perfectly pitched, Prosperous Friends re-defines itself as it unfolds, changing and transforming, alive with truths and questions. Schutt demands our meditation, our intimate consideration, our awe.”—Jayne Anne Phillips

"Clever . . . Unorthodox . . . Schutt rips the facade off marriage."—California Literary Review

“It is no longer a secret that Christine Schutt is the finest writer among us, and Prosperous Friends is her finest work yet. There isn't a corner in any of her sentences left ungraced by her lyrical genius, her heart-fathoming wisdom. A few pages in, you'll know you have a classic in your hands.—Gary Lutz

“Christine Schutt casts the light of her brilliant prose into the shadowy corners of marriage and sex, aging and art-making, wealth and aspiration. What she finds there is thrilling, dangerous, true: impossible to forget. This is a moving, luminous novel, its radiance all the more striking for the darkness it's willing to explore.”—Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

"With her elusive, suggestive prose, Christine Schutt examines the mystery of one couple's dissolution. In its spare delicacy, Prosperous Friends recalls nothing less than James Salter's Light Years."—Stewart O'Nan

“Give me the tough, adamantine beauty of Christine Schutt’s writing any day. Her new novel, Prosperous Friends, is about that, about friends, and their marriages, and within the eddy of these various enterprises, within the many come-hithers and get-thee-gones, is a character at once Isabel Stark and Isabel Bourne. It's Portrait of a Lady one hundred and thirty years on, except it’s all incisively new, and it’s Christine Schutt at her finest.” —Michelle Latiolais

"Poignant . . . Schutt creates noteworthy texture with what she withholds . . . making for abrupt juxtapositions, vivid moments, and terse language, the sum of which feels fittingly reflective of the [book's central] relationship itself." —Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
National Book Award finalist, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and two-time O. Henry award winner Schutt is a writer's writer whose elegant prose seems like chiseled diamond. Here, golden boy Ned Bourne and his wife, Isabel, seek fulfillment of their artistic promise but are less successful in managing their emotional and sexual lives until they meet older painter Clive Harris and his poet wife, Dinah. With a reading group guide; for discriminating folks.
Library Journal
Ned and Isabel meet in a writing workshop and marry after a short courtship. Ned has some success in getting published; Isabel suffers from debilitating migraines, depression, and sexual dissatisfaction. At first patient, Ned eventually escapes into alcohol and an affair with an old flame. Meanwhile, Isabel becomes the muse of Clive, a much older painter who has his own troubled relationship with his adult daughter, Sally. Schutt, a National Book Award and Pulitzer finalist, has a challenging, impressionistic style. Her prose is spare but poetic, at times to the point of obscuring meaning. It's hard to feel invested in Ned and Isabel when their marriage seems a lost cause from the start; it's not until the novel's closing chapters that the rush of their early courtship is described. Unexpectedly, Clive's wife, Dinah, becomes the most sympathetic character. VERDICT Though this can be difficult reading, Schutt's reputation and experimentation with form and structure warrant inclusion in serious literary collections. [See Prepub Alert, 5/3/12.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
This third novel from Schutt (All Souls, 2008, etc.) is the desultory story of an unhappy marriage. Ned and Isabel met in graduate school at Columbia. Pretty Isabel was smitten by the equally pretty Ned. Even then, Isabel had migraines caused by "sloth, envy, anger, uncertainty." Both wanted to be writers; Ned had the ambition. After attending Ned's cancer-stricken mother in California, they married in Vegas. We first meet them in London a year later, living frugally off Ned's fellowship. Schutt is known for her elliptical style. What we gather through the ellipses about their sex life does not bode well: He's importunate, she's withholding. Isabel finds out she's pregnant and decides on an abortion; she wants a career before motherhood. Ned attaches them to a rich, obnoxious banker (Schutt fixes him with a beady eye), and they vacation in Rome on his dime. Back stateside, Ned reconnects with Phoebe, an old flame. She's newly married, but so what? Cheating is part of the fun. Isabel does it with Clive, an elderly, rich, married painter. Such a shame that the old boy is "practiced in taking advantage of the stunned or wounded." He invites her up to Maine for some modeling. Isabel brings the uninvited Ned; if he drops Phoebe, she'll stop servicing Clive. Her plan doesn't work, though she cries and cries at a B&B on the way. (Its ancient owners, who bookend the novel, have an old-school marriage, loving and loyal.) This is where the younger couple's marriage essentially ends, though the reader must piece together the details; this is surely one ellipsis too many. Perhaps tiring of mopey Isabel and vapid Ned, Schutt shifts attention to Clive. There's not much drama there either. This material does not do justice to Schutt's sharp-edged vision of contemporary mores.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802120380
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/6/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christine Schutt

Christine Schutt is the author of two collections of stories, Nightwork and A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer. She is also the author of the novels Florida, a National Book Award finalist, and All Souls, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


Christine Schutt is the author of a short-story collection, Nightwork, chosen by poet John Ashbery as the best book of 1996 for the Times Literary Supplement. Florida, her first novel, was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University and studied at Barnard with novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick. She lives in New York City.

Author biography courtesy of TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2013

    Pitch Perfect. 

    Pitch Perfect. 

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    Posted January 21, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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