From Spencer (The Rich Man’s Table, 1998, etc.), a rich and highly textured account of life, love, envy, and disappointment in a Hudson Valley town.
Leyden, New York, is one of those quaint little burgs with the good fortune to have been dirt-poor for so long that no one ever bothered to put up strip malls or subdivisions nearby. Hotshot lawyer Daniel Emerson was born there, but he made his reputation and fortune in Manhattan and never intended to move back—until he lost a case defending a black drug czar and found his life suddenly in serious danger. So he dropped out of the fast lane and settled into a sluggish small-town practice in Leyden, moving into a house with his writer girlfriend Kate Ellis and Kate’s young daughter Ruby. At Ruby’s preschool, Daniel meets Iris Davenport, a young black graduate student whose son Nelson is one of Ruby’s classmates. Iris is married to Hampton Welles, a prosperous black investment banker who spends most of his time in Manhattan. Daniel, at 36, is getting a head start on his midlife crisis, and the first symptom is Iris, with whom he becomes quickly infatuated. That Kate is an old-style southern racist (she’s now covering the O.J. Simpson case for several newspapers), and that Hampton is an insufferable prig capable of detecting racism in the way Leyden’s traffic light changes, help make an affair inevitable. And, shall we say, trouble ensues. Amid it, we also meet an insolvent patrician, his New Age wife, a blind art historian, two runaway juvenile delinquents, and a crooked cop—in other words, the people of your typical Hudson Valley town. What they all have to do with one another isn’t obvious at first, and it’s to the author’s credit that he manages to connect their lives in a way that seems almost self-evident by story’s close.
Subtle without being obscure, a splendidly intricate tragicomedy of manners in the tradition of Saki—full of horrible, delightful, and vivid eccentrics.