Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Prosperous Friends

by Christine Schutt

“Give me the tough, adamantine beauty of Christine Schutt’s writing any day. Her new novel . . . is 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

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date November 12, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2179-0
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

“No one writes sentences like Christine Schutt. Prosperous Friends is sure to be her masterwork. Like Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Schutt’s portrait 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

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. The New York Times Book Review described Schutt’s All Souls as “shot through with [Virginia] Woolf’s lyrical, restless spirit.” 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 perspective in the company of an older, celebrated artist, Clive Harris, and his wife, a poet, Dinah Harris. 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.

Tags Literary


“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.” —Sam Sacks, 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.” —David Winters, 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.’” —Albert Mobilio, 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.” —Sam Lipsyte, 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.” —Rosanna Xia, 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.” —Ron Charles, 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.” —Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“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, a novel that—like The Seagull—denudes serial monogamy and upper-class ennui as mighty gaffes in la comedie humaine. . . . 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. . . . Schutt spikes her sentences with lines as tart as Meryl Streep at her most British. . . . At root, Prosperous Friends may be a knotty comedy or a confounding dramawhich is, in all likelihood, the living truth.” —Nathan Huffstutter, Paste

“[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 poetry, it rewards careful reading, and though brief, the questions it raises linger, unanswerable and self-complicating.” —Justin Taylor, 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.” —Joan Silverman, 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

“No one writes sentences like Christine Schutt. Prosperous Friends is sure to be her masterwork. Like Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Schutt’s portrait 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

“Clever . . . Unorthodox . . . Schutt rips the facade off marriage.” —Toba Singer, California Literary Review

“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

“A beautifully painted picture of a very ugly couple . . . The Bournes’ outwardly glamorous life is rotted—beautifully, elegantly, descriptively rotted—by their yawning emotional emptiness and destructive disregard for one another. . . . [Schutt is] known for the strange poetry and intimacy of her writing. In her hands [Prosperous Friends] becomes a compelling, almost voyeuristic, study of two complicated relationships. . . . Written in a dreamy, fragmented style . . . If you want to get lost in writing rich with ringing, sensual descriptions—and observe superficially successful lives you won’t envy—drop in on Prosperous Friends.” —Hannah Calkins, Shelf Awareness

“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

Reading Group Guide

1. This beautifully wrought novel comes to life though its sure and vivid use of language, illuminating settings, and characters with color and texture. Begin your discussion of the work by analyzing Schutt’s use of language, and the ways in which it affects the novel as a whole.

2. An intimate portrait of a marriage, the novel charts a couple’s attempts to revive their love for each other and to shape it into something viable, solid, and lasting. Talk about the ways in which Isabel and Ned’s relationship changes during the novel, and whether the breakdown of their marriage is inevitable. How do they love each other? Do they ever seem happy together?

3. The novel begins on a note of anguish, a woman crying in a bedroom at a country inn: “Her swept, stripped crying was like an empty room . . . Whoever had lived there, slept there, adjusted in front of a mirror there, was dead” (p. 2). What was your reaction when you discovered that the sobbing woman was Isabel? Did you feel hope for the couple and their marriage to know that they had overcome this domestic crisis together—or instead did the scene instill in you a sense of impending doom?

4. Isabel and Ned’s story begins as they leave the cocoon of graduate school and embark on the world of work as writers. Consider their very different approaches to the artistic life, the ways in which they envisage success, their aspirations. Do they complement each other in any way?

5. From the outset their creative works, their lives, and their marriage seem to be inextricably intertwined until success or failure in one inevitably affects the others. Discuss this statement in the light of the following quote: “What event was it first diluted the marriage, or was it an absence of event, Isabel’s failure to make something worth regarding?” (p. 67) Are Isabel and Ned supportive of each other’s work?

6. In the opening chapters Ned dazzles himself and countless others. What is it that attracts people to him? Is he a likeable character? What is it that Ned sees in Isabel?

7. In many ways Isabel seems lost in her own life, unsure of herself or her aspirations. How is this reflected in her ambiguity toward sexual discovery or fulfillment? What do you think she is hoping for herself in her life? From Ned? Does she know? Talk about her promise to be “purposeful, employed, well-traveled.”

8. Consider the pervading sense of listless boredom that Isabel seems to project in the first part of the novel, and the way it crystallizes and hardens into something solid without hope in the second. Is there a defining moment? She goes ahead with an abortion stating, “I haven’t been anything yet.” What does she mean by this? How do you think her life might have been changed by the birth of a child?

9. “It’s okay to tell him I’m depressed. . . . You don’t know the reason, not really. There are a lot of reasons but only some of them have to do with you” (p. 33). Talk about the ways in which Isabel and Ned misconnect in their attempts to understand each other as they struggle “alone and together in the intimate familiar that was marriage” (p. 40).

10. Never do Ned and Isabel seem so removed from each other as when she tends to the baby mouse, and he starts his affair with Phoebe. Was the affair inevitable? Were you saddened for Isabel? How did you feel about her desperate attempts to care for the mouse, the blind Shih Tzu? What is she trying to achieve? Is there any hope in her attempt to resurrect their marriage or is it already as doomed as the blind dog: “If we could just do this one thing together, I think . . .” (p. 56).

11. How does Ned change in the years after the publication of his first book? Is his life leading him in the direction he had planned or hoped?

12. While Isabel is happy that she can cause desire in another man, “Surprise and . . . delight at delighting an attractive man” (p. 110), what ultimately is the main reason she agrees to spend the summer in Maine? What is the irony of her decision?

13. The creation of works of art—paintings, writing, poetry—runs through the center of the novel, this creation of a sense of self, a feeling of self-worth, through one’s work. Consider whether the artists ever find a way to separate who they are from what they create. Does their creativity make them happy?

14. Continuing the last question, analyze the role that art and creativity play in both Clive and Dinah’s marriage and that of Isabel and Ned. Dinah seems to enjoy her poetry as an outlet from the imperfections of her marriage. Where does Isabel fit in—is she able to commit herself to either her art or marriage? And what about Ned? And Clive?

15. Discuss Clive’s relationship with his daughter, Sally. Why does she make him sad? How fair is he in his view of her: “Look at me, listen to me, help me: the tedious refrain to Sally’s song of herself” (p. 84).

16. “Poor Sally and the drab adjectives he used whenever he spoke of what she was but might have been” (p. 89). How closely do Sally and Isabel mirror each other with their sense of unfulfilled potential?

17. Both Isabel and Ned recognize that their marriage is in a state of decline—and has been for a long time—but how far are they willing to go to fix it? They seem unable to leave each other or love each other, aiming instead for being nice to each other. Why do they continue to live with each other? Do you blame one more than the other for the breakdown of their relationship? Were you devastated or relieved by the book’s conclusion?

18. Talk about Clive and Dinah’s marriage, her acceptance of his lovers, and her method of handling an errant husband, “Simply subdue them by loving them more.” What is important in Clive’s gesture of offering a stone to Dinah? What does it say about their relationship? Find further examples of the ways in which they understand each other through asides, through gestures, and small actions (p. 114).

19. “Who was to say what anyone might make of a life, but Isabel was stung by the little startles of those who knew her at what she had become. . . . She had not been a success, except perhaps outwardly in marriage. And now the marriage was over” (p. 142). The novel has a lot to say about the way we allow ourselves to be judged by others, by society, and how we measure ourselves by the standards of others. Look at how the characters are affected by—and inhibited by—the ways in which others define success or a life well-lived or a good marriage. Discuss Dinah’s statement, “Oh, pride was overrated; she had learned how to put it aside” (p. 119).

20. Consider what the author has to say about aging and wisdom throughout the course of the novel, and look at how the younger characters are able to learn and benefit from it. “Oh, why were the young so slow to turn to life when they had it?” (p. 136)

21. What do you think Ned learns about himself, about Isabel, about their life together during his stay at the Bridge House? How do you feel about him at the end of the novel? How do you think the other characters view him?

22. After Ned’s departure and Isabel’s car crash, a sudden sense of community springs up between the women (p. 155). How unlikely are Dinah, Isabel, and Sally as friends? Yet why does their good feeling for each other make perfect sense within the scope of the novel?

23. How far do you agree with Clive’s view that Isabel “had come to the Bridge House hopeful of repair and had been broken” (p. 163)? How do you imagine Isabel’s future? Do you think she will find a way of defining her own success?

24. “And it wins her over that he knows, better than anyone else knows, the great divide between who she is and what she has done” (p. 195). What does Dinah mean by this, and what does it mean within the context of the novel? How could Ned and Isabel have helped each other if they had gained this wisdom?

25. Finish your discussion of the work with what you think the author has been saying about marriage, and what an ideal marriage really is. Bring into your viewpoint the story of Baucis and Philemon and their wish to be united in death as they had been in life.

Further Reading:

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald; We Don’t Live Here Anymore by Andre Dubus; The Collected Stories by Richard Yates; Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates; The Awakening by Kate Chopin; Desperate Characters by Paula Fox; and Light Years by James Salter