(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Meeting Evil combines the characters and situations of Killing Time, Neighbors, and The Houseguest (1988) to darkly comic effect. John Felton, married and the father of two, is an unsuccessful real estate salesman in a small community. Like many of Berger’s Everyman protagonists, John is an essentially good person motivated by a sense to do right and to seem considerate of others. His benign tolerance is severely tested when a stranger comes to his door on John’s day off and asks for help in pushing a stalled car. Richie turns out to be John’s complete opposite and the embodiment of a typical civilized American’s worst nightmares.

A much more dangerous version of Harry and Ramona of Neighbors and the visitor in The Houseguest, Richie is a psychopath who sincerely believes that he is not a bad person. Violence just happens to erupt wherever he goes, though he insists that it is the police who commit most crimes. John is unable to break away from Richie as he steals cars, kidnaps other innocents, and carries out more mayhem. John escapes only to be charged with Richie’s crimes. The often hilarious novel’s denouement plays out when John finally returns home to find his wife entertaining Richie, whom she thinks is his client.

Richie’s acts cause John to reevaluate his values, though he corrects himself every time that he feels he is giving in to Richie’s cynical view of human...

(The entire section is 582 words.)