Beautiful Losers is divided into three books. In book 1, the narrator speaks. In book 2, F. writes to the narrator. Book 3 is “An Epilogue in the Third Person.” Book 2 fills in gaps (though only for the reader) in the narrator’s story; the epilogue shows the speakers of books 2 and 3 as old men. Cohen once remarked of the writing of this novel that he had to “write or die”; the book is a fictional portrait of one very dark time of the author’s soul.
The constipated, oversexed narrator of book 1 speaks from the vantage point of a man who has lost his wife to a freak accident resulting from a possible suicide attempt and who has lost his best friend to a political suicide. The narrator is a folklorist who is studying a tribe of Indians, the A--s, which is nearly extinct.
Edith, the most recently deceased of the A--s, had felt neglected by her husband because of his devotion to his study. She consequently secreted herself at the base of the elevator shaft outside their basement apartment. She might have been safe in her hiding place, as few visited the basement, and she might have won the attention of her scholar-husband had a delivery boy not descended upon her.
Catherine Tekakwitha is the seventeenth century A--upon whom the narrator focuses his study. Her death, like Edith’s, was hastened by her own acts and by an outside power. A convert to Christianity, Catherine rejected her physical nature in spite of the efforts of tribal associates to find her a suitable spouse. As she grew more disassociated from her physical self and more closely wed to the spiritual, she became more and more abusive of her physical body. Toward the end of her life, her self-inflicted torture was so great that others of her tribe forced her to agree to set limits on her homage to her Savior. Catherine did not, however, stop fasting, and she did not stop punishing her...
(The entire section is 777 words.)