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Eustace Chisholm and the Works

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  311 ratings  ·  54 reviews
No Purdy work has dazzled contemporary writers more than this haunting tale of unrequited love in an indifferent world. A seedy Depression-era boardinghouse in Chicago plays host to a game of emotional chairs (Guardian) in a novel initially condemned for its frank depiction of abortion, homosexuality, and life on the margins of American society."
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 13th 2015 by Liveright (first published 1967)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
Rating details
 ·  311 ratings  ·  54 reviews

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Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: homewrecker
Recommended to Mariel by: Kermit the hermit
"I am a public mop-handle, they have all of me, and are planning to sever anything they cannot freely manipulate. Since I have lost all shame here in Mississippi and since you have never had any, and I know you blab everything the minute you hear it, for though you are people say brilliant, you are the lowest species of human being ever crawled on earth, and you will admit this, for if there is one thing in you that distinguishes you from slime it is you are honest, this makes you I imagine, a m ...more
Paul Bryant
Jun 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Who? James? James Purdy? Oh no, I just can’t talk to him right now. No. Tell him I’ll call him back. Oh, thanks. You’re so good to me.

Has he gone? Okay. Phew.

Well you know we’ve been seeing each other. Well, for, oh well 107 pages now. Yes, long enough to tell, I think, don’t you? Well, I just think… it’s not going to work out. He’s just… well, I don’t think he’s my type really. What? No, not because of that, what do you take me for, dwarling, some kind of neonazi? It’s just…. He’s re
Eddie Watkins
May 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
I read this a while ago, along with just about all of Purdy's other novels. I don't know why he's not better known, though I suspect he has a devoted following somewhere. I think he's an American treasure.

The copy of this I have is part of a series called Gay Modern Classics and has a homoerotic painting by Paul Cadmus on the cover. I don't think of it as a "gay novel" but the fact that it had to be so pigeon-holed to be republished says something about Purdy's reputation among the literary est
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another literary dervish from the foetid imagination of James Purdy. This is only the second Purdy I have read, and is markedly different from Cabot Wright Begins. Whereas the latter is an excoriating satire, Eustace Chisholm is quite different.

Exactly what it is, I am unsure: a paean to the sanctity of love, a gothic tale of obsession and its horrific consequences, a sly homage to the muse of creativity and the toll it exacts on those enthralled to its servitude.

There is a passage early on
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a wall-to-wall queer masterpiece. It thrives in queer form, it revels in a queer aesthetic, it lives in a queered-up reality and it is a haunting chronicle of what is lost the world when one's own queer gifts and desires are not actualized. It is a liberating read in its casual depiction of lurid gay sex, contains scenes of sado-masochism that would make Takashi Miike blush, and contains probably the most honest chronicle of a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion written by an American man. And that's juspre-Roe ...more
Jan 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-fiction
Eustace Chisholm and the Works, a 1967 novel that became a gay classic, is an especially outspoken book among the author's controversial body of work. Purdy recalls that Eustace Chisholm and the Works, named one of the Publishing Triangle's 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels of the 20th Century, outraged the New York literary establishment. Set in a rooming-house in depression-era Chicago the novel brings a marvellous game of emotional chairs. Eustace's wife moves back in while he takes up with a man. It ...more
Mar 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compelling and horrifying. At turns grim and humorous, this is a rather stunning exploration of desperation and cruelty. Set in Hyde Park during the Depression, the book follows a ragtag group of characters--Eustace, a bisexual sponger and failed poet; Amos, an angelic-looking university student turned rentboy; Daniel, a haunted and listless ex-coal miner who cannot face up to his own desires. Unable to possess what they desire, these three men torment each other psychologically and their lives ...more
Nov 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Wow. I somehow found this book via a booklist either on here or on Amazon, and ordered it because it sounded interesting. But interesting is an unsderstatement. The characters in this story are depraved and beautiful. Purdy's characterization is amazing, they feel both atypical and authentic, archetypical and alive. I feel like taking a trip to 1930s Chicago to find the originals for this crazy gang of outcasts. Not to mention Purdy's writing style: amazing. This should be considered a "classic, ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is one of my more favorite of Purdy's works that I've read so far. Some of it seemed a little one track and people's fascination with the grit parts for the sake of grit alone certainly isn't something I understand, but the writing is extremely tight and solid with great characters, and the ending is particularly good. The easiest way to have improved my reading experience would been to have omitted Franzen's forward. Honestly, why even bother with that?
This seems to be the month of forgotten 20th century American novelists for me – after Maureen Howard’s brilliant Natural History: A Novel , now James Purdy with his novel Eustace Chisholm & the Works. Purdy, although dead – he has born in 1914 and died in 2009 -, seems not quite as thoroughly buried as Maureen Howard – it looks like he always had a bit of a cult following and there even seems to be a bit of a revival going on, with his out-of-print works being reissued. Which would certainly be very ...more
Brian Swain
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first learned of this novel, and of James Purdy, from an essay included in Jonathan Franzen's latest collection "Farther Away." And I say, without exaggeration, that this is the finest piece of fiction I have encountered in a very very long time. The development of and relationships between the various characters are so real and poignant that you are genuinely sorry to see the book end. Just a tremendous achievement. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt
Rarely do I feel comfortable saying there is a "right way" to feel after finishing a book, but if readers aren't reeling after closing the back cover of James Purdy's 1960s classic of queer literature, "Eustace Chisholm and the Works," I am not sure they read the same book I read!

Telling the story of some low and out characters living at the margins of Chicago society during the peak of the Great Depression, it is honestly remarkable how outright and blatant Purdy is in discussing th
May 25, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
What happens in this novel is repulsive, pointless, uneven, and utterly captivating. Ditto for the characters. It's clear I didn't really understand the meaning of the word "sadistic" until I read this book. Unlike anything I've ever read before, and I'm still undecided on whether that is a good thing or not.

The book's mere existence feels confounding. It doesn't fit into the narrative we have not only of gay literature but of American literature at large. I mean, if you've wondered what the op
Daniel Krolik
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Insane and devastating. Just the way I like it. His name should be shouted from the rooftops instead of just being an intriguing little footnote. A tough read, but there is plenty of awful dark humour to get you through it.
This Purdy novel is set in Depression era Chicago, with a narrator (the title character) in the mid stages of syphilis, although he seems happy enough to ignore that it's having any effect on him. Eustace also serves as a protagonist and sometimes he's an antagonist in the story. The rest of the characters can be summed up as their own worst enemies. I don't usually do warnings with books, but in this case, I will. This book had one of the most horrific, even if it was non-explicit, torture plot ...more
Asa Wilder
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love James Purdy. This book features the only detailed description of a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion I think I've ever read and it is somehow disgusting, scary and really beautiful. Also features the horrifying, evil gag of a mother responding to her daughter's first period with fake shock, saying she's never heard of such a thing.
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intense, powerful, disturbing. I was afraid to keep reading and afraid to stop. How is it that I never heard of this book before in my life? But if I'd known anything about it beforehand, I might never have read it.
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book. A runaway train of a book. An American masterpiece.
The Center for Fiction
Jonathan Franzen selected this for the 2005 Clifton Fadiman Medal.
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was only vaguely familiar with the name James Purdy before reading a short case for his work, one lamenting that he's left out of the canon and relegated to mere cult status. I chose this novel as a start because I saw that Nelson Algren derided it as a "fifth-rate avant garde soap opera" and because it's set in Hyde Park, Chicago, near where I once worked.

The title character, Eustace (or "Ace") is a wannabe poet, a lazy bohemian, a bisexual gadabout, and a magnet for souls more tr
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very curious book, it felt like little I have read before. From the storytelling, to the characters, to the plot; it felt unique. The characters were all so direct to each other in their expressions of emotion. Most of them experience violence, and they all seem to take it without objections. It is shockingly normal for them. The plot lines are terribly dark, but not heavy. There is a train wreck aspect, where you can't look away.

I was left with questions. Why is the book titled after Eustace
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Woah! This book is a fascinating window on gay culture in 1930s Chicago. All the characters are caught up in the Depression. Purdy is a great stylist and the plot is odd and oddly shaped. It's funny and ultimately, completely heart-breaking. Totes recommend!
Ricky Carrigan
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A remarkable book, Purdy captures life on the margins of American Society with no regard to your sensibilities. James Purdy deserves a place alongside Henry Miller, and William Burroughs. Highly recommend.
Kobe Bryant
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
He must have been going through a real dark period during this one
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book couldn't hold my attention
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very nice, lots of barely veiled grotesque violence and squalor and other stuff like that.
Maria Varela
Nov 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an incredibly disturbing yet compelling novel of sexual obsession which is not for the faint of heart.
Adam Dunn
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt
A tragedy in the classic sense of the word, depressing in every sense of the world. If Jonathan Franzen thinks this is reality he needs better friends.
Kane S.
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a nauseating novel. I just don't even know. Throughout my reading, I very much enjoyed it but I did not think it was incredible. But those last few pages are from so far out in left field... There is no precedent.

What begins as a frustrated romance between a young man and his even younger tenant, this work transmogrifies into a text of blazing grief, a thing so searing and uncomfortable, it is hard to finish.

(I will be discussing the plot in detail, so, if you wan
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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James Otis Purdy (July 17, 1914 – March 13, 2009) was an American novelist, short-story writer, poet, and playwright who, since his debut in 1956, published over a dozen novels, and many collections of poetry, short stories, and plays. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages and in 2013 his short stories were collected in The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy.
James Purdy
“Some people confess in the flesh, others on paper.” 5 likes
“Why, if Daniel Haws was to take out his naked cock and shake it in your face, you’d die of apoplexy.” 1 likes
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