The Rich Man's Table

The Rich Man's Table

by Scott Spencer

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From the greatly admired author of Men in Black, Waking the Dead, and Endless Love, a novel about a legendary singer who was the god of music to the young of the 1960s and 1970s, as seen through the eyes of his illegitimate son.

The narrator is Billy Rothschild, who grows up obsessively searching for the father he never knew. He's nine when he discovers his


From the greatly admired author of Men in Black, Waking the Dead, and Endless Love, a novel about a legendary singer who was the god of music to the young of the 1960s and 1970s, as seen through the eyes of his illegitimate son.

The narrator is Billy Rothschild, who grows up obsessively searching for the father he never knew. He's nine when he discovers his father is Luke Fairchild, the most idolized and imitated folk-rock singer of his time, embraced as the truth-telling voice of his generation. Later Billy discovers that Esther (his mother) and Luke were the emblematic couple; a picture of them wrapped in each other's arms, walking down a rainy New York City street, graced the cover of Luke's most famous early album. Songs about Esther abound in the Fairchild songbook.        

Unacknowledged by Luke, tormented by the omnipresence of the Luke Fairchild legend, Billy seeks out everyone and anyone who can give him information: the priest who almost brought Luke to Christ (Father Richard Parker: "Luke had thrown himself into so many things—communistic thinking, Hinduism, drugs, patriotism, materialism . . . But he always burned right through it . . . I saw in Luke . . . a man haunted by God") . . . Luke's former lovers . . . Luke's musicians . . . Luke's drivers . . . Luke's myriad interviewers . . . Luke's drug couriers . . . Luke's friends, yes-men, enemies.

Billy becomes the chronicler of his father's life, and the story takes shape both as Billy's discovery of himself and as the biography of Luke Fairchild.

The Rich Man's Table brilliantly spans the decades between the early sixties, whenLuke, then a scruffy folk singer, played for handouts in Greenwich Village nightclubs, and the late nineties, when the dreams of youth have faded in the wake of lost loves, dashed hopes, and the nightmarish distortions of fame. Scott Spencer brings alive the energy and the essence of that time for those who were there, as well as for those who wish they had been.

Editorial Reviews

Sara Nelson

It has been an auspicious year for Bob Dylan. He survived a heart infection, won three Grammys (his son Jakob won two) and played for the pope. Too bad The Rich Man's Table, Scott Spencer's quasi-bio masquerading as a novel about Dylan, isn't nearly as successful. Actually, the latest offering from the author of Endless Love and Men in Black is a memoir-inside-a novel, the supposed true-life story of one Billy Rothschild, a substitute teacher in his late 20s who may or may not be the illegitimate (and unacknowledged) son of Luke Fairchild, aka Stewart Kramer, "a shapeless Jewish kid from the Midwest" who became the bard of his generation.

Like Dylan, Luke (who accumulates acolytes known as "Lukologists," a clear reference to the "garbologists" who used to rifle through Dylan's trash for clues to his songs and his life) plays in the Greenwich Village folk clubs in the '60s, gets famous, gets girls, gets religion, etc. He also, says Billy's beauteous mother, Esther, fathered Billy. Desperate to find out all he can about Luke -- and to get the creep to acknowledge him -- Billy goes around interviewing everyone connected to him.

In these early sections, Spencer portrays Luke's/Bob's world with breathtaking accuracy: the Sullivan Street scene in the hippie-folk days, the life of the Little Red School House (known as the Red Diaper Baby school for its quantities of hippie/commie kids), the lyrics that, when recited, walk the line between poetry and pomposity. And Spencer, we all know by now, can write: A girl in the neighborhood has "a face as blunt and expressionless as a knee"; Billy responds to a stepfather-wannabe with the "sour, slightly contemptuous thoughts ... common in fatherless boys who pine for a man's love." At evoking an era and its sensibility, at pinning down spinning emotions, Spencer has no equal.

Still, the novel doesn't work, largely because no one in it, besides Luke, is very compelling. Cut from cardboard, the supporting cast here -- with the notable exception of Billy's maternal grandfather, a feisty Communist curmudgeon who once attacked the great Luke with his cane -- seems to exist only to impart information to Billy. Esther, Little Joe (a onetime friend of Luke's), even Sergei Kapanov, the Russian body builder Luke publicly defends against a murder charge (Spencer's version of Hurricane Carter, the fighter about whom Dylan wrote a famous song), are mere props. And Spencer's plot -- about a car accident in which Esther is seriously injured -- seems contrived as yet another opportunity for Billy to confront Luke.

Ultimately, though, the biggest problem is Billy himself, a one-dimensional character with only one main activity: badgering Luke into admitting paternity. An obsessive who's more than willing to use Luke's bad behavior as an excuse for everything unpleasant or unfinished that ever happens to him, Billy is the original Johnny One-Note, with a voice as whiny and abrasive as any early Bob Dylan song. If only he -- and his story -- were as memorable. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Spencer (Endless Love; Men in Black) has imagined a quintessential 1960s folk-rock superstar, Luke Fairchild, who seems to be a cross between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen but has a following greater than either, and scrutinizes him both as cultural phenomenon and person. He is seen through the eyes of his seldom-acknowledged son, Billy Rothschild, the offspring of a liaison with beautiful left-wing hippie Esther when both seemed the essence of their breakaway generation in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Now it is 30 years later: Billy is a schoolteacher still tormented by the fame and elusiveness of his father; his mother lives in the country among old friends and quietly drinks her life away. Spencer writes perceptively of the burdens of colossal success; his picture of Luke, spoiled and selfish yet with a core of sweet uncertainty that makes him a magnet to millions, is subtle and unnerving. Most impressively, his ear for rock lyrics (he reproduces many of Luke's songs as he goes along) is unerring. Billy is less convincing, and the pretense that he is doing a book on his father is a rather awkward device as an excuse for his narrative. But the joyfully romantic excesses, as well as the pain and waste, of those far-off times are beautifully evoked and sure to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of any aging hippie. (Apr.)
Library Journal
The narrator of a coming-of-age novel is typically an awkward adolescent caught on the cusp of adulthood, but Spencer provides a twist. Billy Rothschild, the illegitimate offspring of a rock'n'roll star and an exceptionally beautiful woman, is a decade removed from his teenaged years, but he has still not made the emotional transition to maturity. His coming of age has been held obsessively in limbo by an unresolved need to connect with his famous father. Billy lives his life around the edges of his father's career, interviewing old friends and acquaintances and seeking release in chronicling his search for recognition. A tragic accident forces Billy's long-awaited reunion and release. Fans of Spencer's Men in Black (LJ 4/15/95) will recognize the self-absorbed voices and critical self-reflections that mark his characters. For larger public libraries.Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
Gary Krist
Quest narratives haven't been the fashion in American fiction for quite some time, but Scott Spencer's new novel, The Rich Man's Table, could give the genre a surge of new life....Spencer knows what it takes to captivate an audience. -- New York Times Book Review
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
What stays with you is the compelling portrait of a figure whose history, his son says, 'is the history of the second half of 20th-century America'. -- New York Times
Jill Smolowe
A tale of over-the-top intensity that enthralls to the end. -- People Magazine
Lee Ann Sandweiss
Luke Fairchild is startlingly Dylanesque... Spencer's bold prose captures the grotesque world in which rock and roll deities reside. -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Tad Friend
When Luke appears, the book sings. -- Vogue
Regan McMahon
The story strikes universal notes about longing and self-knowledge... the desire to connect with and be accepted by a parent is an urge so primal... and Spencer handles it with wit and grace. -- San Francisco Chronicle
Kirkus Reviews
"All I wanted was a father," Billy Rothschild explains, looking back at his fatherless childhood. At the heart of Spencer's (Men in Black, 1995, etc.) dense, rueful, startling new novel is a young man's long search to somehow make contact with his long absent parent. Billy's mother Esther reluctantly tells him, when he's nine years old, that his absent father is in fact Luke Fairchild, the dominant figure on the folk-rock scene in the 1960s and '70s and a man now obscured by many layers of legends. But knowing who his father is, Billy gradually discovers, isn't enough. He needs to know who this man—who seems, at the same time, both an entirely public and deeply private figure—really is and why he seems to have had so little interest in his son. The book is presented as the grown-up Billy's record of this long pursuit, and it covers, with great dexterity, a lot of territory. It shares, with many of Spencer's other novels (Secret Anniversaries, 1990, etc.) a protagonist undertaking an anguished search for the truth, and a fascination with the upheavals and utopian possibilities of the '60s. Billy begins to research his father's life, to track down anyone who has known him and can tell him something authentic about the man. He interviews musicians, former lovers, even a priest who had counseled him. Out of this welter of conflicting information, Billy begins to assemble a portrait of a sad, ambitious, deeply conflicted man. And eventually, of course, Billy's search leads him to an encounter with his father, and to a deeply ironic reunion between his parents. The portrait of Luke remains somewhat hazy, but the passion of Billy's search, and the yearning that drivesit, as well as the pain of lost possibilities he discovers in Luke and Esther's lives, are all rendered with vigor and clarity. A mournful, moving work.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.76(d)

What People are saying about this

Stephen King
A fabulous book that catches the spirit of its time.

Meet the Author

Scott Spencer is the author of six novels and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and The Nation. He has taught at Columbia University and the University of Iowa. He lives in New York with his two children.

Brief Biography

Rhinebeck, New York
Date of Birth:
September 1, 1945
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B. A., University of Wisconsin, 1969

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