Five new stories, set in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, and a one-act play, from National Medal of Arts recipient Auchincloss (The Young Apollo and Other Stories, April 2006, etc.).
Auchincloss remains the consummate observer of extremely wealthy Americans in the 20th century. The title story features Hubert Hazelton, an English teacher at an exclusive Manhattan girls’ school. A confirmed bachelor, Hubert takes special interest in the privileged lives of his three best students and advises them over the years on their choice of spouse. Although the women wind up disregarding his advice, eventually one of the husbands takes heed. In “The Devil and Rufus Lockwood,” an earnest Episcopalian minister who believes he is acting piously is shocked to discover otherwise. “The Call of the Wild” pits Harry Phelps, an unassuming man who has always followed the rules and mores of his class, against the late-in-life discovery of his own passion. “The Conversion of Fred Coates” showcases the ascent of a shrewd scholarship student to the pinnacle of wealth and power . . . and his Icarus-like fall when he decides to defend an old college friend against charges of spying for Russia in McCarthy-era Washington. And in “The Omelette and the Egg,” a wife whose mother and mother-in-law try to dissuade her in the strongest possible terms from becoming a writer gets her revenge. The one-act play “The Country Cousin” stars a poor relation who demonstrates the value of reason to her more-money-than-sense benefactors. Each of these delightful stories is laced with a comic surprise, demonstrating that money and problems are not mutually exclusive.
Another impressive addition to an extensive oeuvre.