Auchincloss’s latest (The Friend of Women, 2007, etc.) concerns a scandal set in an exclusive New England prep school being buffeted by the winds of change in the mid-1970s.
Michael Sayre is a young lion of Northeast society, handsome, cultured and witty to a fault, though too sturdy and responsible to be looked down upon as a fop. Seemingly perfect for his new position as headmaster at Averhill—a tradition-steeped factory churning out the future masters of the universe—Michael has hardly finished modernizing the place (co-ed student body, open-minded curriculum, less emphasis on dead languages) when a scandal drops into his lap. An accusation is made of sexual impropriety between two male students, one a bullying upperclassman, the other a fey mother's boy—neither of them well-acquainted with the truth. It’s normally the sort of thing to sweep under the rug, but Michael has an enemy on the board in the form of resentful old classmate Donald Spencer, eager to shake his adversary's confidence. Some of the passages rise to heated melodrama, complete with epic declamations and wily drawing-room maneuverings, but the author handles the material with characteristic agility.
Genteel combat among the gimlet-eyed gatekeepers of the upper-crust, their hold on society's reins slowly slipping.