An excellent collection of 12 previously unpublished stories display the author’s usual precision and ease, wit and moral scrupulousness.
The group Auchincloss (Writers and Personality, 2005, etc.) makes his own are American families of inherited wealth and power. In the stories presented here, it is in measuring the precise oscillations between the limitless possibilities afforded by wealth, and the limits imposed by its possession, that the author excels. The title story, set just before the outbreak of World War I, concerns Lionel Manning, a young man, gifted and much beloved, of perfect tact and artistic discernment. In letters addressed to a biographer chosen by the young man’s father, artistic friends his senior by a generation posthumously offer their praise and gratitude. Manning guided their careers, serving as model and mentor, insuring their success and considerable fame. The irony, as Auchincloss puts it so delicately, is that “Lion was one who could inspire genius without being one.” So rich is the life cut short that the inability of the story's hero to follow those whom he had boosted up Parnassus has no real sting. So thoroughly has he lived in the artistic lives of others that his failure never occurs to us, until Auchincloss chooses the perfect moment to disclose it. An even better story is “A Case History,” which traces the choices made by Marvin Daly, heir to a Pittsburgh steel fortune, struggling after the World War II with what he takes to be the moral implications of his own homosexuality; of Marvin, the author writes: “[Marvin’s] moderate good looks, his moderate competence in sports, and his moderate good nature caused him to be moderately accepted.” The flawless accuracy of observation displayed by Auchincloss makes this one a little masterpiece.
No one captures the charm of having money and using it with offhand splendor the way Auchincloss does.