Welcome to Wellington, New York, where, in this loose novel, readers can eavesdrop on the lives of the uber-rich and those who cater to them.
Think of a very, very upscale Winesburg, Ohio—with no inhabitant nearly so innocent as young George Willard. Or think John Cheever, for this is certainly Cheever country. Wellington is about a hundred miles north of Manhattan, populated by such as the well-named Hamilton Highgate and his trophy wife, Caprice, and Carlton Hale, M.D., the wives’ favorite doctor. And there’s Jimmy Tatko, the studly contractor who decides to make a circuit on foxhunt day, apologizing to all the rich wives he’s schtupped and then forsaken. Things don’t turn out well for Jimmy, considering his stomach cancer. The most Cheever-esque story of all may be “Garbage Feud,” in which, after the unnamed narrator throws his trash, innocently, into the wrong Dumpster, the feud is on and there’s no backing down. Things escalate until Crawford, the narrator’s nemesis, flips his truck with a disastrous outcome—but in a twist for our times, a literary agent sees the newspaper account, so there’s likely a million-dollar book and movie deal in the offing. Unlike some framed stories, main characters in one chapter will reappear, often as cameos or just references, in another. Readers do get a sense of Wellington as a real place where lives intertwine. Jimmy, for instance, may pleasure a fellow’s wife in one chapter, then turn up in another to give an estimate for his kitchen remodel. For all their wealth, most of these people are not happy—an old trope, of course, but one that Orcutt slightly twists. There are random acts of kindness, and in a heartening episode, someone steals an abused dog. Sometimes, even for those characters who are disagreeable or worse, there are hints that even they deserve our pity.
Though not quite as sensitive an observer or exceptional a writer as Cheever, Orcutt lies satisfyingly in his shadow.