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by Louis Edwards

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2003
ISBN: 0-7432-3689-0
Publisher: Scribner

A young man comes of age in the company of the great Irish wit and playwright, a story told by Edwards (N, 1997, etc.) with a sophistication worthy of its subject.

Few creatures are more difficult to put up with than a college boy fresh out of school—especially if he doesn’t have a job. The honest and industrious Henry Traquair, who has spent most of his life as butler to New York banker Charles Gable, raised his son William with every advantage he himself never had: freedom (Henry had been born a slave in South Carolina), material prosperity, and a good education (at Bowdoin College, paid for by his banker employer). Now, in 1882, William is home with his degree but no certainty of what to do with his life. Fate settles the question when a friend of Charles Gable’s asks Henry if he knows of someone who might make a good valet for a London writer traveling through the States for the next year or so. It’s Wilde, of course, and sulky William snaps out of his funk and leaps at the chance to spend a year with the great man. Thus begins one of the best road tours in American history, as the mercurial and languid Wilde is guided through the thickets of the young republic by the versatile and savvy William. Many of the adventures (Wilde giving a lecture on Benvenuto Cellini in a Colorado silver mine) really took place, and they’re amplified by the fictional exploits of William (who loses his virginity, falls in love, and receives a surprising revelation about his father) and of Charles Gable’s son Baxter (who moves to England and conceives a grand passion for Wilde’s future wife, Constance Lloyd)—as well as of Wilde himself, who proves even more quotable in person than he is on stage.

Tremendous fun: a marvelous story animated with just the right savvy, melodrama, wit, and fantasy.