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A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

2.99 of 5 stars 2.99  ·  rating details  ·  895 ratings  ·  153 reviews
Joyce and Marshall each think the other is killed on September 11—and must swallow their disappointment when the other arrives home. As their bitter divorce is further complicated by anthrax scares, suicide bombs, and foreign wars, they suffer, in ways unexpectedly personal and increasingly ludicrous, the many strange ravages of our time. In this astonishing black comedy, ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published December 12th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2006)
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14th out of 119 books — 144 voters
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Community Reviews

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Sometimes you think “This will be a good book”, and you get quite excited. And then you read it, and it turns out it is not a good book after all. And such is life.

“Disorder Peculiar to the Country” has all the ingredients – 9/11, New York setting and a couple going through a bitter divorce. Somehow, however, these ingredients don’t seem to blend at all. It seems like Kalfus has thrown all the popular subjects at the time – 9/11 World Trade Center, anthrax, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden here and
MJ Nicholls
Marriages will always fail unless one sex agrees to be slightly less dominant. Otherwise:

Where did you leave the car keys? ON THE TABLE WHERE THEY ALWAYS ARE. Where did I put my hat? IT’S ON THE HAT-HOOK WHERE IT USUALLY IS. What should I wear tonight? DON’T BE STUPID JUST WEAR BLACK TROUSERS AND DON’T PUT ON THAT CARTOON TIE YOU’RE NOT A CLOWN. Do I have time for a quick pee? NO WE HAVE TO GO NOW, YOU SAID YOU’D BE READY AT FIVE EXACTLY. I forgot to pick up the potatoes. OH THAT’S GREAT NOW WE
May 03, 2013 Rand rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: break-up artists
Moments of absolute hilarity interspersed with the horrific are the hallmark of this tidy little novel which explores a divorcing couple's first year post-9/11.

Yes, it could have been a wee bit better. Kalfus could have extended his narrative frame up to the present in which he was writing. He could have explored (instead of barely suggesting) the levels of intrigue underlying the hijacking of the planes, the general stupidity of making Saddam a scapegoat and the US's complicated history with Bi
I thought this book had potential when I read the description, but alas, it was sadly pointless. Lack of character growth and plot development, coupled with two wholly unlikeable main characters made for a big flop. I was expecting dark humour or at least some sort of story progression but found neither. The author's writing is decent, he just doesn't seem to use his talent to accomplish anything. There was one scene in particular that was utterly gratuitous - even more so than the rest of the b ...more
Mary Wagner
This book was supposedly a black comedy, and I must admit that I did not find it to be amusing at all. I also don't feel why anyone would have found it amusing. The book begins with a divorcing couple on September 11th. One works in the trade center, and one is supposed to be on the plane that crashes in PA. I guess the humor starts that both the man and the woman hoped that the other had perished. I'm not sure I see why anyone would find that humorous. The book continues to present two extremel ...more
May 14, 2010 Alan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Alan by: ben mullins; mike reynolds
Shelves: novels, read-in-2010
I alternately loved this book and was slightly bored by it. Strange combination. It is stuffed with fantastic scenes, brilliantly executed, starting with 9/11, the protagonist being caught up in it in the WTC, his wife secretly pleased he might be dead. There is great satire too about the state of marriage and the state of the country: the pettiness of divorce (the coffe maker), these people are ruled by lawyers about what they can and cannot say, having to stay together but ignoring each other, ...more
Bonnie McEwan
This book was supposed to be a dark comedy, but mostly it was depressing. I guess I am not ready for dark humor about 9-11, vicious divorces, or children in sexual situations. There was one funny moment that I can recall. The husband in the middle of a divorce walked in on his soon-to-be-ex-wife with a bomb strapped to his chest, yelled out, "God is Great", and pulled a string. When nothing happened, the wife tried to help him with it, criticizing his bomb-making skills all the while. The conver ...more
This book sounded really promising from the back cover. A divorcing couple stuck together in a tiny apartment who both think the other has died in the World Trade Tower collapse and are disappointed when this isn't the case. The characters were very hollow and I couldn't get a sense of why they hated each other so much. If the author had been able to create more believable characters this would have been a decent book.
I had written a review of this book and then accidentally closed the tab. The first few chapters of this book showed great promise. I was overjoyed to have found another example of somewhat inappropriately themed black humor writing. But where something like Hope: A Tragedy occasionally pushed the premise and individual jokes too far (usually with what I imagine was the intended effect -- "If I could stop laughing for just one second, I would ponder and be horrified by the terrible things it say ...more
I’m mixed about this book, I liked the very dark humor that sometimes pops up in the narrative, and I liked some of the topics that the author explored, like cultural and religious differences, the horror of war, how war plays out on TV in our modern society, our brain dead capacity to watch TV 24 hours a day and an exploitive drug and sex party. However, I didn’t fully connect fully with Joyce and Marshall. I don’t know if it’s because I have never been through a divorce, either parent or mysel ...more
This is such an interesting premise for a novel, and something that I admit I wondered to myself. What about the people who, on 9/11, were disappointed that their spouses survived the attacks or missed their flight? As ugly a thought as it is, there must have been people here and there who were stuck in miserable relationships, or in the midst of ugly divorces, who would have viewed this monstrous day as a stroke of good luck.

That's not a pretty concept, but given the sheer scope of the calamity
Meghan Davison
The only other fiction about 9/11 that I've read is Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which is heartbreaking. And yet it is somehow easier to read than Kalfus' sardonic look at 9/11. It is uncomfortable reading an account of 9/11 that isn't meant to make us sad. It is uncomfortable reading about characters who grieve not for what they lost but for what they wish was lost. It is uncomfortable reading about unsympathetic characters when we want to read about heroes. But ...more
Apr 14, 2012 Davis rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those who don't easily get depressed, fans of black humour
Recommended to Davis by: No one
This book was so close to 5 stars; very, very close. It was so good, for around 170 pages. Then it just got far to depressing for 5 stars. It may be sadistic of me, but I loved both of these neurotic depressed main characters. I was rooting for Joyce and Marshall! I wanted them and their kids to be happpy; that isn't an emotion I normally feel towards fictional characters. In fact, I don't even really like happy endings. But the depression exhibited by these two is just so great, I felt almost c ...more
Such a gripping opening and natural symbolic parallel between the fall of the Twin Towers and the not-so-amiable end of a hyperfunctional dysfunctional couple in their mid-thirties. Flowing and very readable language that sometimes reminded me of TC Boyle -- both also use recent history to inform the action (and vice versa). Lots of great little descriptions, like the "oily, gamey" taste of a NYC hot dog that's been soaking all day in near boiling water. Not the most likeable characters but (sad ...more
This book is trying to be darkly funny throughout and almost never succeeds. More importantly, way too much of the book takes place in the heads of its two main characters rather than in dialogue or in them living life. I'm sure that was sort of the point, and the one positive of this book is how well Kalfus paints a portrait of modern self-obsession, but he does it at the expense of everything else. There's a real lack of story. The reviews of this book are all glowing, though, so maybe fiction ...more
Πάνος Τουρλής
Ένα από τα ωραιότερα βιβλία που έχω διαβάσει (φέτος; γενικά;). Διάβασα την περίληψη στο οπισθόφυλλο και προετοιμάστηκα για ένα βιβλίο της Κατερίνας Μανανεδάκη ή έστω της Λένας Μαντά. Ε, καμία σχέση. Ένα ζευγάρι είναι στα πρόθυρα του διαζυγίου. Οι Δίδυμοι Πύργοι δέχονται επίθεση. Η κατηφόρα της ανθρώπινης αξιοπρέπειας και το κατρακύλισμα της κάποτε αγάπης που ένιωθαν αυτοί οι δύο ο ένας για τον άλλον αναπτύσσονται και εξιστορούνται παράλληλα με την κατηφόρα της αξιοπρέπειας του μέσου αμερικανού π ...more
Guy Salvidge
I like Kalfus. I've read all three of his earlier books and I've had this lying around for some years inexplicably unread. The first 70 or so pages are excellent. The basic premise is that an unhappy New York couple are divorcing at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and both briefly think the other dead (one in the towers, the other on a plane). There's even a short, vivid scene detailing Marshall's escape from the World Trade Center.

And then the story falls into a big hole, sadly. Joyce and Marshal
E. Ce Miller
Ken Kalfus's 2006 novel "A Disorder Peculiar to the Country" opens with the terrorists attacks to to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Kalfus's protagonists/antagonists (both characters essentially occupy both spaces, often simultaneously) Joyce and Marshall Harriman, are in the throes of heinous divorce negotiations, and watching the towers fall, each think the other has died in the attacks (Marshall worked in one of the towers and Joyce was supposed to be on the flight that crashed ...more
9/11 and the Iraq war serve as the setting for a black comedy about a divorce. 2 solipsistic New Yorkers are calling it quits, and parallels are drawn with the state of the country. Initially, this works very well, but - No spoilers - it ends with a bizarre scene that cheapens the whole. While there were very funny moments - overall, it was a whimper. I don't need to find characters sympathetic, but it is hard to stay engaged when they are so very pathetic.

It's hard for me to give this book only three stars because I would have given the first half five. Somewhere in the middle I lost interest and by the end I was discouraged. It's about the best three star book you'll ever read and I would recommend it to most people, but not if you want something full of hope and cheer. Dark, dark and funny. Very funny. Until it isn't funny.
Jan 04, 2014 Rachel rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Some books start out with such promise, then fizzle away into strange drivel until their awkwardly forgettable endings. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country is, I regret, one of those books.

Before I go into where it went wrong, let me show you how great this book could have been: Marshall and Joyce Harriman are NYC professionals stuck in the nasty/dull middle of their divorce when 9/11 happens. Both have reason to believe the other dies in the attacks, and experience glimmers of excitement in the
Carolina Jiménez
Empezó bien. Una pareja está en proceso de divorcio y el odio mutuo es tan fuerte que se pasan toda la novela llevando a cabo pequeñas venganzas. El escenario: Nueva York durante y unos meses después del 9/11. Me reí mucho al principio y Kalfus escribe muy bien. Pero más o menos a la mitad del libro, me empecé a aburrir. A partir de entonces, seguí leyendo pero sólo por disciplina, para no dejar el libro a medias.
Creo que le pasó como a muchos escritores: no supo cuándo detenerse. Pudo haber par
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
Almost a 5-star book for me. Yes, this is a black comedy about the savageness of two people who are divorcing who are forced to live together in their small New York apartment with their two young children and dog, but it is also a a powerful commentary on the disintegration of a marriage and the obliteration of human decency during the divorce proceedings. The tragic events of 9/11 and the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq serve as a back-drop to the story and become almost a respite to the ...more
This novel started out full of promise until it fizzled out halfway and became too forced until the very end.

This is a story of Marshall and Joyce Harriman, two people on the brink of a nasty divorce. Each of them thought the other was killed in the 9/11 attacks and both were gravely disappointed when it turned out they're both alive.

The 9/11 tragedy and its immediate aftermath became the backdrop of this tale about a marriage that started crumbling down years before; there's so much hate that h
Didn’t know anything about this when I picked it up – in fact it was my girlfriend’s choice from the library – so the first thing that grabbed my attention was the admiring puff quote on the back from David Foster Wallace. I don’t know if it was actually from a review of this particular book but whatever. I started reading this book and I enjoyed it. It is an effective, amusing and well-written bit of contemporary literary fiction.

The story is set during and after the destruction of the World T
I could have sworn I already wrote a review of this. I can't even recall when I listened to it, but I actually listened to it twice, having forgotten when I downloaded the audiobook the second time, that I had. Then it started to come back to me bit by bit, and I found myself thinking, "Oh, is this the one where the female protagonist reads Newsweek to 'shop for an opinion'?" (Answer: Yes. But this comes way late in the narrative.) And I'm not even sure why I listened all the way through a secon ...more
I'm a few years behind on my reading, and it's possible that this felt like more of a 9/11 book when it came out in 2006. For my money, though, Kalfus takes marital discord and spins out of it a tale that describes the "breakdown" of recent American society. I put that word in scare quotes because I don't know that it's a genuine devolution so much as a perceived devolution. And it's that gulf of perception that also seems to be the biggest stumbling block between Marshall and Joyce. Oh, for the ...more
"This civilization comprised Barneys, the Times, MetroCards, a raven-haired woman in tears standing in the street hailing a cab, yellow cabs, mojitos, divorce lawyers, and Derek Jeter, the elements in constant commotion and collision with each other. It was a civilization defined by the phenomenon of collision and consequent phenomena: he was in collision too, with every unfamiliar face and sight that presented itself on the sidewalk, each encounter generating another observation, thought, or id ...more
I started out really liking this--the chilling opening sequence on 9/11, the swing and snappy confidence of the writing, the sobering drama of a marriage unraveling at the same time as the nation, and how Kalfus skewers the way so many people reacted to 9/11 with a false or inflated sense of victimhood. It reminded me of that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David is told by a rabbi that his son was killed on 9/11. When he reveals that it was in a bicycle accident in Midtown and not i ...more
Had a lot of promise as it provides the parallel stories of the rise in terrorism, why America is not Mr Popular with many in the Middle East, Judaism and global threats with the seemingly mundane of a couple of who are going through a very protracted and ugly divorce. The scene of the bucks-party dinner provided a great debate on America's foreign policy. But a lot of the book meandered and lacked focus.
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He was born in the Bronx, NY and grew up in Plainview, Long Island.

Kalfus started college at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, but dropped out after the first year. He attended various other universities including the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Kalfus started writing at an early age.
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