THE ATONEMENT and Other Stories by Louis Auchincloss
Kirkus Star

THE ATONEMENT and Other Stories

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The 12 thematically linked tales in Auchincloss's first since his Collected (1994) dispel any sense of diminished talent in old age. With elegance and intelligence, the author further embellishes familiar themes--romantic egotism, the fate of family fortunes, and the relation of business and morality. A Protestant moralist and the chronicler of a social class in decline, Auchincloss focuses here on characters who try to atone for past misdeeds. The title piece--a mini Bonfire of the Vanities--measures the moral complexities of financial manipulation in the contemporary marketplace, and poses the situational ethics of its fast-track protagonist against the seemingly unworldly wisdom of his father, a prep-school master. A railroad magnate atones for a life dedicated to business by assembling in old age a world-class art collection, much to the dismay of his heirs (""Ars Gratia Artis""). When a successful Manhattan lawyer divorces his first wife for his partner's, he makes up for this scandal by retreating to a quiet life as a professor, much to the chagrin of his ambitious second wife (""The Last Great Divorce""). While one heartless tycoon rationalizes his empire building (""Realist in Babylon""), a young lawyer abandons his career to follow his genuine interests (""The Hidden Muse""). A famous litigator at age 80 confronts, with some shock, the possibility that his wife understood him best when she steered him from a path leading to the Supreme Court (""The Golden Voice""). Auchincloss continues to be interested in the ""spheres of influence"" specific to gender in the WASP ascendancy. A longish tale of two sisters, ""Honoria and Attila,"" neatly captures the various choices open to women of a certain class, as does ""Geraldine,"" in which a society widow decides not to challenge her second husband's will, sacrificing a fortune for the moral high ground. One of the last literary chroniclers of the upper class--and a voice still very much worth heeding.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin