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Loosely related vignettes of social climbers, society parasites, and other creatures preoccupied with wealth and position in New York City: a faintly abstract, fable-like mosaic that's occasionally amusing, more often tedious, ultimately empty or heavyhanded (when not obscure). An opening section provides the family history of Edward Jones, born rich circa 1910: his grandfather is a N.Y.C. criminal who dreams of wealth, moves to Albany, and makes a brewery fortune. So Eddy grows up with a clear message from his elegant mother--""nothing will be required of you. You will be perfect""--though he also values his grandfather's earthier virtues. Then, with snippets of essay about the lack of a genuine US-high-society tradition (lacking a ""role that was Rich and American, both,"" the rich borrowed from Europe), Trow fills in the history of the super-rich Aspair clan: money and civic concerns obliterate early flickers of real family feeling. And the rest of this short first novel moves to present-day N.Y., or a mildly surreal facsimile thereof. There's a portrait of a 30-ish woman named Esther, a.k.a. ""Miss Quality"" of the New York Poll--a miserable climber whose column turns everything, even street muggers, into in-crowd, breathless society-journalism. (The Post parodies in Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale are much funnier.) There's half-Jewish, cocaine-snorting Victoria Feldman, an Aspair descendant with a decadent-society mother and a young suitor who engages (at length) in debates on the value of labor. And there's the above-mentioned Edward Jones--now 60-ish, half-monk, half-dandy--who is primarily seen here patching up the love-affair between two old friends of his, an affair threatened by gaps in class and money. Trow sprinkles this assemblage with coincidental links. (Victoria's suitor is a descendant of another symbol of work/camaraderie/plain-folk: the best friend of Eddy's criminal/brewer grandpa.) But the fragments of satire, reportage, anecdote, and sociology don't hold together any better than did the pieces of Trow's pretentious essay, Within the Context of No Context. And though obviously influenced by Waugh, Barthelme, Nathanael West, and Laurie Colwin (among others), this oblique, precious little slide-show--half-sneering, half-sentimental--only sporadically offers fresh insights into the hollowness of rich-folks' social structures.

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 1983
Publisher: Little, Brown