An elegant, precise, droll novel about a lawyer's startling transformation, by the author of Wartime Lies (1991) and The Man Who Was Late (1993). A recent widower (he and his wife Mary had seemed to exemplify the old New York ideal of elegance and accomplishment), retired at the age of 60 from his law firm, Schmidt, seemingly a poster boy for the now fading world of the cultured, wealthy WASP, is vaguely melancholy, faintly discontented, stranded in his wife's handsome beachfront house in Bridgehampton. His self-involved daughter Charlotte (a devoted member of the public relations department of a tobacco company) announces her intention to marry Jon Riker, a humorless lawyer from Schmidt's firm. Schmidt, who had built a very lucrative legal career on his ability to be ``always demonstrably and impeccably right,'' begins to feel the first stirrings of self- doubt. Does he object to Riker because he seems so one-dimensional, or because he's Jewish? And, with some amazement, he finds himself beginning an affair with a frank, exuberant waitress, a woman younger than his daughter. As Schmidt attempts to navigate increasingly turbulent waters (an outraged daughter, friends amused or appalled by his indiscretion), Begley deftly introduces long hidden pieces of Schmidt's former life. He was, it turns out, a tireless womanizer and a less-than-devoted dad. He's charmingly condescending toward those unlucky enough to be neither WASPS nor wealthy. He is, in fact, a bit of a cad. But it's one of the pleasures of Begley's increasingly dark narrative that he both reveals Schmidt's self-satisfied shortcomings and makes him nonetheless a fascinating character. And, as Schmidt faces a series of alarming problems (including his young lover's peculiar and softly menacing boyfriend), it's hard not to root for his success, for his newly aroused pleasure in life. A sly, sharp portrait of an amoral but appealing figure, and of the declining world of privilege that has shaped him.
Ten years in the workaday progress of a New York Mafia sort of family dynasty tale with all the attendant flurries of great houses at war. Don Corleone is ruler of the Family, avenger and dispenser of favors, from judges boughten verdicts to rub-outs among the fiefdoms. The noble Don ages and there is the nagging worry as to who shall carry on. Eldest son Sonny is too impetuous; Freddie is a fornicator; Michael fancies a teaching career with his Yankee bride. Along with the manipulative, diplomatic and skull-smashing demands of the Eastern empire of real estate, manufacturing, and gambling, there is always the threat of treachery from within one unfortunate example of which snuffs out Sonny by the Jones Beach toll booths. Michael, forgetting the scholar's life, pumps bullets in revenge, is sent to Italy, and is finally returned miraculously intact after assassination attempts. It is Michael, after the Don's near murder and eventual death from heart failure who reasserts the Family as Number One in a coup which includes the garrotting of a traitorous brother-in-law. The scene roams from coast to coast, provides glimpses of the sex/love tangles of the Ladies Auxiliary, family fun and cosy Italian fiestas, boppings, bashings, shootings, hackings. A Mafia Whiteoaks, bound for popularity, once you get past the author's barely concealed admiration for the "ethics" and postulates of primitive power plays.
A brilliant piece of writing, with the atmosphere and suspense and pace that made Jamaica Inn an absorbing and thrilling story—and it has besides a depth of characterization and soundness of psychological conflict that makes it a finer and more penetrating book.
The story is told through the eyes of the unsophisticated and somewhat terrified young second wife of Maxim de Winter, owner of Manderley, a Cornish estate that had won renown under the executive management and fascination of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. Bit by bit, the character of Rebecca is built up in the mind of her successor, and the sinister figure of the housekeeper who had adored her, strengthens the conviction that her ghost haunts the place. Then comes disaster, impending tragedy, and in the face of what seems the end of all things, a new Rebecca emerges — and a new marriage is brought to life. A haunting sense of impending tragedy keeps one breathless to the end. It is fascinating reading.
This is the sort of book that stirs one so deeply that it is almost impossible to attempt to convey the impression it leaves. It is the story of today's Exodus, of America's great trek, as the hordes of dispossessed tenant farmers from the dust bowl turn their hopes to the promised land of California's fertile valleys. The story of one family, with the "hangers-on" that the great heart of extreme poverty sometimes collects, but in that story is symbolized the saga of a movement in which society is before the bar. What an indictment of a system — what an indictment of want and poverty in the land of plenty! There is flash after flash of unforgettable pictures, sharply etched with that restraint and power of pen that singles Steinbeck out from all his contemporaries. There is anger here, but it is a deep and disciplined passion, of a man who speaks out of the mind and heart of his knowledge of a people. One feels in reading that so they must think and feel and speak and live. It is an unresolved picture, a record of history still in the making. Not a book for casual reading. Not a book for unregenerate conservative. But a book for everyone whose social conscience is astir — or who is willing to face facts about a segment of American life which is and which must be recognized. Steinbeck is coming into his own. A new and full length novel from his pen is news. Publishers backing with advertising, promotion aids, posters, etc. Sure to be one of the big books of the Spring. First edition limited to half of advance as of March 1st. One half of dealer's orders to be filled with firsts.
The author of Seven Gothic Tales — presents here reminiscences of twelve years on a coffee farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. Rarely does a book on a remote country convey so fully the feeling of the country and the people. This is a leisurely book — quiet in spirit; it deals with everyday happenings and centers the interest mainly on the native "squatters" on her farm, her servants, her "chef" Kamante , and reveals the remarkable insight into this wary race, soon staunch in their admiration and gratitude. Anecdotal — incidental — in character, but it is the manner of telling that gives it such rare charm, the fluency and case and delightful with and subtlety, which characterized her Seven Gothic Tales.
Exceedingly effective handling of a ticklish subject, in an anatomy of alcoholism, a dogged, shattering study of the periodic drinker destroying himself knowingly, wilfully. Over a period of five days, this is the hyperbola of the drunken tear, from the first day of indulgence in illusions, in power, in grandeur, to the shame of the next morning, and the desperate need for the hair-of-the-dog, on to submersion, sodden dreams, and eventually delirium. Bumming money for more and more drink hiding from all who love him—Wick, his brother, and Helen, who cares for him but refuses to marry him until he is cured; a stopoff in the ward at Bellevue, a night with Helen, escape home to wind off the bender in bed. There's an awareness of psychological motivation, but indifference to cause and effect, in the relentless drive of self-annihilation.
This is a book which courts the dangers of two extremes. It can be taken not seriously enough or, more likely, critical climate considered, too seriously. Kesey's first novel is narrated by a half-Indian schizophrenic who has withdrawn completely by feigning deaf-muteness. It is set in a mental ward ruled by Big Nurse — a monumental matriarch who keeps her men in line by some highly original disciplinary measures: Nursey doesn't spank, but oh that electric shock treatment! Into the ward swaggers McMurphy, a lusty gambling man with white whales on his shorts and the psychology of unmarried nurses down to a science. He leads the men on to a series of major victories, including the substitution of recent issues of Nugget and Playboy for some dated McCall's. The fatuity of hospital utilitarianism, that alcohol-swathed brand of idiocy responsible for the custom of waking patients from a deep sleep in order to administer barbiturates, is countered by McMurphy's simple, articulate, logic. This is a thoroughly enthralling, brilliantly tempered novel, peopled by at least two unforgettable characters. (Big Nurse is custom tailored for a busty Eileen Heckert.) Though extension is possible, make no mistake about it; this is a ward and not a microcosm.
Walker (In Love and Trouble, Meridian) has set herself the task of an epistolary novel—and she scores strongly with it. The time is in the Thirties; a young, black, Southern woman named Celie is the primary correspondent (God being her usual addressee); and the life described in her letters is one of almost impossible grimness. While young, Celie is raped by a stepfather. (Even worse, she believes him to be her real father.) She's made to bear two children that are then taken away from her. She's married off without her consent to an older man, Albert, who'd rather have Celie's sister Nettle—and, by sacrificing her body to Albert without love or feeling, Celie saves her sister, making it possible for her to escape: soon Nettle goes to Africa to work as a Christian missionary. Eventually, then, halfway through the book, as Celie's sub-literate dialect letters to God continue to mount (eventually achieving the naturalness and intensity of music, equal in beauty to Eudora Welty's early dialect stories), letters from Nettle in Africa begin to arrive. But Celie doesn't see them—because Albert holds them back from her. And it's only when Celie finds an unlikely redeemer—Albert's blues-singer lover Shug Avery—that her isolation ends: Shug takes Celie under her wing, becomes Celie's lover as well as Albert's; Shug's strength and expansiveness and wisdom finally free up Nettie's letters—thus granting poor Celie a tangible life in the now (Shug's love, encouragement) as well as a family life, a past (Nettie's letters). Walker fashions this book beautifully—with each of Celie's letters slowly adding to her independence (the implicit feminism won't surprise Walker's readers), with each letter deepening the rich, almost folk-tale-ish sense of story here. And, like an inverted pyramid, the novel thus builds itself up broadeningly while balanced on the frailest imaginable single point: the indestructibility—and battered-ness—of love. A lovely, painful book: Walker's finest work yet.
Almost as frustrating as it is commanding, McCarthy’s ninth (and first since the completion of his Border Trilogy: Cities of the Plain, 1998, etc.) is a formidable display of stunningly written scenes that don’t quite cohere into a fully satisfying narrative.
It’s a bleak chronicle of murder, revenge and implacable fate pocked with numerous echoes of McCarthy’s great Blood Meridian (1985). Here, the story’s set in 1980 in southern Texas near the Mexican border, where aging Sheriff Bell, a decorated WWII veteran, broods heroically over the territory he’s sworn to protect, while—in a superb, sorrowful monologue—acknowledging the omnipresence of ineradicable evil all around him. Then the focus trains itself on Vietnam vet Llewellyn Moss, a hunter who stumbles upon several dead bodies, a stash of Mexican heroin and more than $2 million in cash that he absconds with. The tale then leaps among the hunted (Moss), an escaped killer (Anton Chigurh), whose crimes include double-crossing the drug cartel from which the money was taken, the Army Special Forces freelancer (Carson Wells) hired by druglords and—in dogged pursuit of all the horrors spawned by their several interactions—the intrepid, however flawed and guilty, stoical Sheriff Bell: perhaps the most fully human and sympathetic character McCarthy has ever created. The justly praised near-biblical style, an artful fusion of brisk declarative sentences and vivid, simple images, confers horrific intensity on the escalating violence and chaos, while precisely dramatizing the sense of nemesis that pursues and punishes McCarthy’s characters (scorpions in a sealed bottle). But this eloquent melodrama is seriously weakened by its insufficiently varied reiterated message: “if you were Satan . . . tryin to bring the human race to its knees, what you would probably come up with is narcotics.”
Magnificent writing, nonetheless, makes the best case yet for putting McCarthy on a pedestal just below the one occupied by William Faulkner.
Well-practiced historian Goodwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time (1994), examines Abraham Lincoln as a practical politician, focusing on his conversion of rivals to allies.
Was Lincoln gay? It doesn’t matter, though the question has exercised plenty of biographers recently. Goodwin, an old-fashioned pop historian of the Ambrose-McCullough vein, quotes from his law partner, William Herndon: “Lincoln had terribly strong passions for women—could scarcely keep his hands off them.” End of discussion. Lincoln was, if anything, melancholic—possibly as the result of abuse on the part of his father—and sometimes incapacitated by depression. Thus it was smart politicking to recruit erstwhile opponents Salmon Chase and William Seward, who had very different ideas on most things but who nonetheless served Lincoln loyally to the point of propping him up at times during the fraught Civil War years. Goodwin indicates that Lincoln knew that war was coming, and he knew why: He’d been vigorously opposed to slavery for his entire public career, and even if “many Northerners . . . were relatively indifferent to the issue” of slavery and the westward expansion of the slave states, Lincoln was determined to settle it, even at catastrophic cost. Chase, Seward and his other lieutenants did not always fall immediately into step with Lincoln, and some pressed for compromise; when he declared the Emancipation Proclamation, writes Goodwin, he assembled the Cabinet and said that while he recognized their differences, he “had not called them together to ask their advice.” They acceded, though by the end of the first term, enough divisions obtained within and without the White House that it looked as if Lincoln would not be reelected—whereupon he demanded that his secretaries sign a resolution “committing the administration to devote all its powers and energies to help bring the war to a successful conclusion,” the idea being that only a Democrat would accept a negotiated peace.
Illuminating and well-written, as are all of Goodwin’s presidential studies; a welcome addition to Lincolniana.