A Gentleman?s Guide to Graceful Living

By MICHAEL DAHLIE

Michael Dahlie?s first novel, an elegant, restrained dark comedy, could be called a kinder, gentler Handful of Dust. It is 1998, a dreadful year for 57-year-old Manhattanite, Arthur Camden, a mild-mannered deviation from a line of business titans. He has run the family firm into the ground, and his wife of 32 years has left him, preferring someone who?s fun and on the ball. The point of Arthur?s life, never finely honed to begin with, now completely escapes him. His only friends, aside from his sons, are — or seem to be — his fellow members of the Hanover Street Fly Casters. But, unsurprisingly, disaster strikes there, too, and Arthur packs his bags — an activity he has always enjoyed — and sets off on a doomed, though terribly funny, journey. The better we get to know Arthur and his feelings of invincible of inadequacy, his natural talent for entering every situation on the wrong foot, and his own wonder at his knack of exasperating others, the more we are drawn to his self-deprecating decency. When he does sally forth we find ourselves rooting for him as if he were coming of age. (“After the concert?Arthur suggested they get dinner, and before long they were seated at a corner table at a restaurant called Epi Dupin, leaning into each other and, although Arthur felt he was not qualified to identify it as such, flirting.”) Dahlie?s writing is limpid and deadpan, maintaining the spirit of Arthur?s orderly, if baffled, soul. What is more, out of this unlikely material comes extraordinary suspense. Will Arthur pull it together? Will his tormentors get theirs? What is going to happen? This is a book I could neither put down nor bear the thought of finishing.

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