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"Mr. Chowder is incapable of writing a bad sentence." – The New Yorker

Delicate Geometry, a novel

Delicate GeometryHarper & Row

Read an excerpt from Delicate Geometry


The New Yorker: “Mr.. Chowder never lets the patterns and puzzles become more important than the story itself. A good novel, of stylistic and imaginative refinement.”

Washington Post: “A thoroughbred of a novel. Splendidly observant… DELICATE GEOMETRY recognizes and celebrates the quirkiness of human relationships. Filled with gently observed satire, wry characterizations, and voices both likable and complex.”

Chicago Tribune: “BLACKBIRD DAYS and DELICATE GEOMETRY together comprise a body of work I’d have to call substantial and distinguished. I hope I won’t have to continue to refer to it as neglected.”

Los Angeles Times: “A rich and fascinating novel, powerful and personal.”

Kirkus Reviews: “Highly likable and deeply affecting… The emotional veracity of these people is established beyond doubt. A writer who is loose and brave and poetic.” (Starred review)

Publishers’ Weekly: “Author of the well-received BLACKBIRD DAYS, Chowder again successfully explores shifting perspectives and points of view…. Chowder creates convincing voices for his narratives; for such an artistic book with so unusual a structure, this perceptive novel is extremely readable and its off-beat characters intriguing.”

Hartford Courant:“This is the best thing I’ve read all year… A valuable, admirable piece of literature which is also enormously pleasant reading. A novel of beauty, feeling, and understanding.”


Delicate Geometry, a novel by Ken Chowder

(A selection from) Chapter 14: Love and the Dishes

… Living with someone, sharing everything, has its little impossibilities. You do not wash your feet, or for that matter your socks, with the frequency that your partner would desire. You forget on occasion to wipe your feet on the mat. You hang your underwear on the bedroom doorknob, and your partner is not pleased.

— You’ve been much better about that lately.

Your partner, for her part, is also surprisingly imperfect. She rises at eight, but is never pleasant until ten. The noise of her long, hard nails scratching her skin (always. Every part of her itches, always) grates against the sensibilities with exaggerated resonance. She is markedly unsympathetic when you slice yourself instead of the onions; she does not seem to care if you are on the edge of a debilitating cold.

— You always slice yourself instead of the onions. You’re always on the edge of a debilitating cold.

Let me now state the rule. The two biggest problems in life are Love and the Dishes.

Actually, I’m not so sure that Love is all that much of a problem; but there is no such thing as a relationship in which the Dishes plays no part. No two people do dishes in the same way, but for every person there is only one Correct way to do dishes. No one in the world does his share of the dishes; at the same time, everyone feels that he does more than his share. It is never anyone’s turn to do the dishes, for no one has ever dirtied a dish: dirty dishes are perhaps the only exception to science’s prohibition against spontaneous generation: dirty dishes are, pardon the phrase, immaculately conceived.

In some relationships, however, there comes a time when such small irritations turn themselves around. I’m speaking of love here, and nothing less. It arrives unspoken, unrequested, at its own pace. I remember the day.

Carolyn had developed a distressing habit of biting her lip. Not the inside of her cheek, so as to be harmless. She chewed the corners of her chapped lips till they bled. At first, of course, I was horrified by this self-mutilation, and a little disgusted as well. I told her to stop. But warnings, reprimands, threats, pleas, were to no avail. She bit on. Instead of growing more desperate, I gradually grew used to this oral flagellation of hers. For a short while I stopped caring; I watched her thin blood run down her chin as if all the people I knew went around wearing trickled red stripes on their faces. Then the next phase arrived. The heart is governed by contradictions, and one day I found myself leaning in my chair, eyes peeking out from my book, trying to spot her gnawing. Not in disgust; no, I was entranced. I found imponderable delight in the sight of her reading under a cone of white light, her pale angelic hair flowing, her teeth bright and shiny-wet, her blood crimson and flowing.

This interest smacks of the morbid and macabre, but I swear such sentiments were not its cause. Her gruesome habit had by repetition lost its grisliness; all that was left was the fact that it was hers, hers alone. It became, in fact, her: became an emblem for Carolyn herself. When I watched her absently rip scar tissue off her dry, cracked lips, I was reminded for the millionth time that this was Carolyn. And so for months I craned my neck, glanced slyly to the side, and even tiptoed around our apartment, in the hope of catching Carolyn in the act. The act of being herself. Because it was her that I loved.

When you love, I think, you start with a mental picture of someone, which you believe is your lover. Over the course of time you discover who it is that you love. It’s only then that you fall in love with her — or else become used to her, which is a short step away from indifference, and then dislike.

But over the years we have each learned, painfully and painstakingly, to allow the other certain idiosyncrasies, liberties. We have made the amazing discovery that two people can coexist: a man and a woman can be friends, even if they live together. I do not use the word love lightly, I mean an unspoken affection, an unseen connection, an unmoving permanence. An adamant tenderness.