Meritocracy: A Love Story

Meritocracy: A Love Story

by Jeffrey Lewis
     
 

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Meritocracy is the story of a generation when it was young, caught at the moment when history arrived to exact a tragic and inevitable price. It is the end of the summer of 1966 and a small group of friends, recent Yale graduates, gather in a Maine summer cottage to say good-bye to one of their own. Harry Nolan is joining the Army and may be sent to Vietnam.

Overview

Meritocracy is the story of a generation when it was young, caught at the moment when history arrived to exact a tragic and inevitable price. It is the end of the summer of 1966 and a small group of friends, recent Yale graduates, gather in a Maine summer cottage to say good-bye to one of their own. Harry Nolan is joining the Army and may be sent to Vietnam. Also present is Harry's beautiful young bride, Sascha.

Harry and Sascha represent to their friends the apex of their generation. Sascha has men falling for her "up and down the eastern seaboard," and Harry, a rich and fearless Californian, son of a United States senator, has his friends convinced that he will one day be president. The story proceeds from the point-of-view of one of the friends, Louie, whose unspoken love for Sascha is like a worm that works its way through the narrative, cracking apart every innocent assumption. An aura of power, earned and unearned, assumed and desired, hangs over this Ivy League world.

And it settles at last on Harry, who on this final weekend before his induction comes to understand a terrible paradox: if he's going into the Army simply to maintain his political viability, his action will dishonor his right to lead; but if he doesn't go, he will likely never have the chance. His wrestling with this paradox unleashes a spiral of events that becomes as fateful for all the characters as it is emblematic of the times they grew up in.

In one sense, Meritocracy is a novel for the Al Gores and John Kerrys and George Bushes of today's America. But in a larger sense it is a book for all those of the postwar generation who have mourned the loss of their true "best and brightest," and who regret how the life of their nation, so brightly and hopefully imagined when they were young, and now entrusted to their care, has come to be diminished.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Elizabeth Hardwick

“Meritocracy is a dramatic, riveting novel of our times.”

Meritocracy: A Love Story is the story of a generation when it was young, caught at the moment when history arrived to exact a tragic and inevitable price. It is the end of the summer of 1966 and a small group of friends, recent Yale graduates, gather in a Maine summer cottage to say good-bye to one of their own, who is about to leave for Vietnam. Meritocracy is a book for all those of the postwar generation who have mourned the loss of their true “best and brightest,” and who regret how the life of their nation, so brightly and hopefully imagined by themselves when they were young, and now entrusted to their care, has come to be diminished.

Publisher’s Weekly

“A paean to lost youth and hopes.”

The Portland Phoenix
“A smart and heartfelt trip…Endow[s] the figure of Harry Nolan with the weight of a generation’s regret.”

The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

“A beautiful book: evocative and immeasurably sad.”

Robert Ward, Author of Red Baker

“Shot through with high intelligence and deep feeling, the novel perfectly balances its several tones—lyrical, ironic, and sweet, against the foreboding gravity of the Viet-Nam War. A book that delivers both intellectually and emotionally, Meritocracy is a wise and moving debut.”

Publishers Weekly
A sheen of nostalgia glazes this tribute to privileged college kids in the 1960s by television writer (Hill Street Blues) and film writer Lewis. Politics is the frame of reference for Lewis's Yalie protagonists, who gather in Maine at the end of the summer of 1966 to bid farewell to Harry Nolan, who is going to Vietnam as an enlisted man. There is speculation about Harry's motives: has he joined up to advance his potential political career (his father is a senator), or are his reasons more personal? Narrator Louie, who idolizes Harry and is in love from afar with Harry's gorgeous, mysterious wife, Sascha, casts the couple in a golden light ("like Indian gods both of them, like Shiva with Parvati"), while attempting to curb his resentment. The story of the idyllic weekend alternates with an older, wiser Louie's reflections on the political fate of his generation: he compares Harry to contemporaries Gore and Bush and attempts to reconcile the conflicting attractions of meritocracy and democracy. The tone shifts from elegiac to tragic when the group drives home in the fog after a late night at a bar and crashes, changing everything for Sascha and Harry. This is less a novel than a paean to lost youth and hopes, and will appeal most to Lewis's fellow Ivy League boomers. (Sept. 7) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An earnest debut finds trouble in the demi-paradise inhabited by the 1960s' best and brightest. Veteran TV (Hill Street Blues) and film scriptwriter Lewis sets his story in 1966 and in the memory of his narrator Louie, one of six recent Yale grads who share a weekend on a Maine island to send off one of their number: golden-boy senator's son Harry Nolan, who has just joined the army and may soon be en route to Viet Nam. Harry and Sascha, his beautiful recent bride, compose the "force field" in which Louie (who loves them both), affable Tennessean Cord, brittle sardonic Teddy, and blank-slate (Adam) Bloch adoringly exist. Louie's reconstruction of their weekend (nearly 40 years later, in the approximate present) sets up a pattern of reminiscence, meditation, and analysis (including overabundant political commentary) that isolates a central question: Did Harry decide to serve his country out of noble motives, or as a stepping-stone toward a later political career? The question is thrown into bold relief by the weekend's events: an unhappy argument between Sascha and Harry, a trip to a rural fair followed by all-night drinking at a roadhouse, an automobile accident, and a serious injury that changes everything forever. The denouement-where Louie's ties to the world of his youth and the people he loved are gradually severed-has a wistful tone that wraps things up movingly (if a trifle too neatly) and (perhaps needlessly) reemphasizes the irony of high hopes dashed and a generation's promise lost before its youth could fully mature. Meritocracy is not at all without merit. But it feels like a story we've heard many times before.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590511428
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
06/28/2004
Pages:
168
Product dimensions:
6.02(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.72(d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Lewis won two Emmys and many other honors as a writer and producer of Hill Street Blues. His "Meritocracy Quartet" is intended to chart the progress of a generation. The first book of the quartet, Meritocracy: A Love Story, won both the Independent Publishers Book Award for General Fiction and the ForeWord Book of the Year Silver Award for Fiction. He lives in Los Angeles and Castine, Maine.

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