Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyBeneath the tidy surfaces of moneyed lives seethe overweening ambition, marital warfare, self-delusion, greed, sibling rivalry and sexual secrets in these eight diverse stories by the noted author of, most recently, Three Lives . Set in various decades of this century, the tales reveal a master storyteller deftly deflating hypocrisy, insatiable egos and the pretensions of some cruel, unfeeling characters. In ``The Poetaster,'' a wealthy 42-year-old industrialist, discreetly taking refuge at an expensive sanitorium after being unmasked as the maker of lewd telephone calls to pretty girls in 1950s-era Southampton, Long Island, chronicles the disintegration of his life after he sacrificed his dreams of becoming a poet-painter. ``A Day and Then a Night'' shows an idealistic young literary scholar, determined to enlist in the fight against Hitler even before the U.S. has entered the war, clashing with his isolationist parents. The 1960s counterculture serves as a backdrop to ``The Man of Good Will,'' in which an alienated, drug-derailed college senior goes over the edge when he learns the identity of his biological father. Though his style is rather attenuated at times, Auchincloss's keen social observation, pitch-perfect dialogue and gift for dramatic confrontation are as effective as ever. (Mar.)
Donna SeamanEight stories by a master whose life list, if you will, runs to 35 fiction titles and a dozen of nonfiction. Here he is at his urbane best, chronicling the disappointments and scandals, foibles and tragedies of the rich and dispassionate. Auchincloss seems to be asking if privilege hardens the heart. Parents are cool and critical; love affairs are wretchedly premeditated, clinical, and not at all fun, yet genuine emotion is faintly detectable beneath the designer clothes and perfectly coiffed hair. In several tales, men in their seventies look back at their lives with quiet regret or smug pride. A grandfather frets over his meddling in his daughter's life and how it seems to have affected his grandson in "The Man of Good Will." "They That Have the Power to Hurt" is an intriguing tale about a roguish art critic who capsized his infamous affair with the "grand dame" of American letters by giving in to the entreaties of a male painter. Each of Auchincloss' stories is finely carved and close-grained--mere ornament at first glance, art upon reflection.
Kirkus ReviewsWith 50 or so books to his credit, Auchincloss shows no signs of slowing down. And that's great news, because his word is as graceful and insightful as it's ever been. These eight stories, with their familiar social types and elegant settings, are vintage Auchincloss: moral tales that resonate with the history of our times, albeit from the top down. Seth Middleton, Dick Emmons, and Osborne Renwick are all wealthy, elderly men who, for one reason or another, find their cherished worldviews suddenly challenged: A retired lawyer of honor and decency cannot rescue his beloved grandson from utter despair ("The Man of Good Will"); in "The Lotos Eaters," a story as clever as Kingsley Amis's Old Devils, another distinguished lawyer, widowed early in life, decides to remarry; and in the fabulistic "Renwick Steles," an aging heir to a real-estate fortune realizes that he will live forever in the shadow of his perfect wife. The witty "They That Have Power To Hurt" is the Nabokovian memoir of a minor writer in his 70s determined to rationalize his history of sexual parasitism. The raging id of a neurasthenic tycoon in "The Poetaster" makes for a compelling tale of upper-class deviancy. In "`To My Beloved Wife'...," a wealthy matron is led astray by the false god of art (represented by an oily, Capote-like hanger-on). The romantic egoism of a once celebrated actress has left her a lonely "virgin Queen" in old age ("Priestess and Acolyte"). And "A Day and Then a Night" is the poignant story of a young man's self-doubt on the eve of US intervention in WW II. Throughout, Auchincloss's varied character studies, always subtle and sympathetic, speak directly to the quality of our lives. Ignoredby most anthologists, Auchincloss belongs among the masters of American short fiction, as this volume demonstrates. His publishers should silence skeptics with a fat collection spanning his 40-plus years of story-writing.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
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