The Best of Youth: A Novel [NOOK Book]


What happens when an introverted young writer takes on a ghostwriting gig for a violent, drug-addicted Hollywood star? In the case of Henry Lang, the result is a string of outrageous disasters, but disasters that are ultimately hilarious, gripping, and deeply moving.

When twenty-something Henry Lang loses his parents in a sailing accident, he?s left entirely alone in the world but also with an inheritance of fifteen million bucks. He decides to head to Brooklyn to immerse himself in the place he?s quite sure is ...
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The Best of Youth: A Novel

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What happens when an introverted young writer takes on a ghostwriting gig for a violent, drug-addicted Hollywood star? In the case of Henry Lang, the result is a string of outrageous disasters, but disasters that are ultimately hilarious, gripping, and deeply moving.

When twenty-something Henry Lang loses his parents in a sailing accident, he’s left entirely alone in the world but also with an inheritance of fifteen million bucks. He decides to head to Brooklyn to immerse himself in the place he’s quite sure is the absolute heart of American youth culture to try and make it as a writer and editor at a young upstart literary magazine. He hopes to fall in love too.

Unfortunately, Henry soon finds himself navigating increasingly baffling social difficulties with both women and work, eventually leading him to near ruin when he’s hired to ghostwrite a young adult novel. Henry’s integrity and entire fortune are on the line, and no one is sure if he can rescue either.

By turns uproarious and tragic, The Best of Youth is a brilliant comedy of manners, introducing us to a surprising modern-day hero for an age where the mean-spirited and the famous triumph all too often.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A hapless 20-something tries to make it as a writer while surfing waves of Brooklyn pretension in Dahlie’s second novel (after A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living). Despite a Harvard degree and a fortune inherited after his parents are killed in a car accident that he uses to fund the literary magazine Suckerhead, Henry feels blocked in his writing—and unlucky in love, when he learns that his girlfriend mocks him behind his back. His streak of disappointment continues through his dogged attempts to do the right thing, which usually end in disaster, from accidentally killing a herd of designer goats to being arrested on weapons charges after cleaning out his family home. A ghostwriting job for D-list actor Jonathan Kipling offers potential until Jonathan turns out to be a persnickety editor who seduces Henry’s unrequited crush and picks apart Henry’s work before taking all the credit for the resulting bestseller. Dahlie’s send-up of the quest for literary fame is hampered by its pursuer, whose ability to buy his way out of trouble obviates any feelings about the stress or danger he experiences. With the exception of a critical fistfight, Henry sails through turmoil basically unharmed, a weak substitute for a 21st-century Candide, one whose absurd struggles don’t produce the intended humor. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)
Tom Perrotta
“Can a person be too good-natured for his own good? This is the question Michael Dahlie asks in The Best of Youth, his sly, thoroughly engaging novel about love, literature, and the strange ways of Brooklyn hipsters. Dahlie is a wonderful writer, with a keen eye for the ridiculous and a deep affection for his well-intentioned but sometimes clueless protagonist.”
Richard Russo
“Michael Dahlie writes the way Cary Grant used to act, that is, with a seeming effortlessness and grace that is truly maddening to those of us who know how difficult it is. The Best of Youth, his fine new novel, is another infuriating case in point.”
Hillary Jordan
“The Best of Youth is what Jane Austen would write if she were here, now, inhabiting a brilliant, self-conscious young writer who'd just been orphaned and inherited 15 million dollars. This witty, romantic, and irresistible story is a surefire antidote to anyone's modern malaise.”
Matthew Quick
“Seriously funny. Intensely human. Reminds us that we can be fallible—even ridiculous—and still manage to find dignity, goodness, and courage deep down inside. I loved this book.”
Maile Meloy
“I raced through Michael Dahlie's The Best of Youth, which tumbles headlong through the calamities of a hapless young Brooklynite—it's funny, moving, and genially moral, a cautionary tale about inherited wealth and a deadpan comic novel about growing up.”
Sam Sacks - The Wall Street Journal
“[A] lovable, feel-good novel.”
Library Journal
This short book by Pen/Hemingway award winner Dahlie looks like a quick read but ends up being a labor—and not of love. The main character, Henry Lang, is so unrealistically clueless, and his mistakes are so predictable, that readers will find themselves cringing. Henry is a Harvard grad and short story writer whose parents unexpectedly die, leaving him $15 million. He decides, naturally, to move to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to soak up the youthful literary culture. What seems meant to be a charming fish-out-of-water story falls flat on its face. The prose is dry, and the events are too outlandish, from the accidental murder of a rare breed of goats to a chance movie deal with a disgruntled celebrity. VERDICT New York's hipster youth scene is ripe for satire, but unfortunately this novel fails to find the mark. Not recommended.—Kate Gray, Pratt Inst., SILS, New York
Kirkus Reviews
Every young writer can probably tell stories about the chaos and romance of their first year as a working scribe. But Henry Lang, the hero of this novel by Dahlie (A Gentleman's Guide To Graceful Living, 2008), has juicier tales than most. Henry's often humiliating, but eventually triumphant, year includes a failed romance with a fourth cousin, a hellish gig ghostwriting for a famous actor and a disastrous run-in with a flock of priceless goats. This is, at heart, a timeless story about a nerd trying to fit in with the cool kids. Henry is born a multimillionaire thanks to family holdings, but that doesn't help his social status in bohemian, present-day New York. He falls in with the editors of a dodgy literary magazine, who reject his stories after his check clears. His cousin Abby, an up-and-coming rock performer, shoots down his polite romantic advances. And he stumbles into a situation that lands him with a short jail sentence. Harry's cluelessness is at first a bit frustrating, especially after the goat episode, but he grows up fast when actor Jonathan Kipling hires him to ghostwrite an inspirational novel. This plays like the movie My Favorite Year but far less romanticized. Will Henry stay muzzled by the nondisclosure agreement he's signed as a ghostwriter, or will he follow his conscience and put everything at risk? Stay tuned. An engaging novel.
The Barnes & Noble Review

The Best of Youth is Michael Dahlie's second novel and follows his Pen/Hemingway Award–winning A Gentleman's Guide to Graceful Living, which, I will say here, was one of the best novels I read in 2008. Like its predecessor, the present book has a hapless, emotionally baffled rich guy at it center, in this case a young man called Henry. He has been expelled from the Eden of a happy childhood and youth by the death of his loving parents in a boating accident off Martha's Vineyard, a tragedy that, however, has left him with $15 million. He now lives in the wised-up, self-smitten world of Brooklyn's Williamsburg, a hipster nation unforgiving of innocence and sincerity, qualities that Henry, who is absent even an atom of prophylactic cynicism, has in abundance.

Henry wants to be a writer and does, we understand, have a gift: a singular, though not especially auspicious one, in that his stories invariably dwell on the tribulations of old people, on their loneliness, disability, and generally melancholy lot, among them "a 90-year-old man who struggles with the pain of committing his 106-year-old mother to a nursing home"). Eager to be part of literary Williamsburg, Henry has contributed $30,000 toward the launch of a magazine called Suckerhead, whose mission, he is told, is to "challenge all this shit that gets published these days." In return, the editor and associates treat him with smug disregard. Meanwhile, Henry is in love, unavailingly, with Abby, his fourth cousin, who, like so many of the women he fancies, insists on being "just friends." The sexual relationships he has had have ended dismally, the last culminating in grotesque humiliation.

So this is Henry and this is his life. Now what?

More trouble: first, by means of a million-dollar herd of rare "heirloom" goats, the property of a hedge fund manager's wife who is a dilettante farmer; and second, the job of ghostwriting a young-adult novel for a well-known actor called Jonathan Kipling, who, according to the agent making the pitch, is "leveraging himself into new things and thinks this might be a good line for him." The deal comes with a formidably punitive nondisclosure clause; Kipling clarifies the situation, telling Henry, "I'd write this myself...but I've got so much going on right now." To be sure, the actor does know what he wants the book to look like and, more concretely, as you might say, is free with advice on the elements of good writing, sending Henry a number of "rules of thumb," real knuckle-rappers along the lines of: "If you use parentheses and semicolons, it's because you haven't thought through your work properly. Please make sure none are in the final product."

Kipling lights up the page with awfulness with his every appearance and his crass, overbearing pronouncements: "[W]e need this to be good," he tells Henry, "and good writing comes through careful work. It's not easy. It's hard. Really fucking hard. If you understand that, how hard it is being a real artist, then we can get there." And when Kipling is angry, which is very much his métier, he is "angry in the kind of fastidious, high-achieving way that might be expected (if not forgiven) from an accomplished actor." He is awful in other, more substantive ways, too, notably in preying on Abby, and with that the novel enters another phase, one of exquisite revenge. Henry, now on the cusp of a fulfilling relationship with another woman, takes off the gloves — to the relief, I might add, of this reader, who could hardly wait for what she knew would be coming.

Throughout the novel, events are described as Henry sees them, but there is an overall disposition behind that, one that presents the young man's point of view with a kindly, avuncular appreciation of predicament: of Henry's having naively entered this arena of phoniness and self-regard seeking friendship and love. Dahlie's quiet dexterity in conveying all this emerges slowly out of the page, and to show it requires a lengthy quotation — if not the entire novel itself. Here is Henry attending one of Suckerhead's organizational meetings:

Henry sat quietly in a corner listening to reports on things like advertising, typefaces, the possibilities of color art, and whether or not they should solicit work from poets with whom the poetry editor had studied. The main topic, though, was where they should have their printing done. One of the associate editors, a woman named Karen, whom Henry had always found very attractive, had been researching the possibility of sending the work to a printer in a developing country.... Karen had concluded, though, that the best place to have Suckerhead produced was at a company in Ontario, Canada, "because they are totally green, they pay their employees well, and frankly, there's not going to be any hassle. These guys are pros."

There was quite a bit of debate following this, including the obvious point, raised by several people, that Canada was not, technically speaking, a developing country. But Karen made fairly complex arguments about uncertain labor practices, questionable workmanship, and environmental issues in the other locations she looked into. Henry, at least, was impressed, although he made an effort to evaluate the matter carefully, from all perspectives and divorced from the fact that he really did find Karen attractive.
The Best of Youth, though perhaps not quite the triumph of its predecessor, is an audaciously simple, understated novel, operating on a spectrum of benevolence and cruelty, of decency and unscrupulousness. It moves along with an orderly dispatch that suggests that telling a story is a matter of making things shipshape. There is something of the fairy tale here (that's money for you) and, despite its acerbic characterization of posers and frauds, it is a sunny book, irresistibly so, and a joy from start to finish.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393089189
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/21/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,282,492
  • File size: 624 KB

Meet the Author

Michael Dahlie won the 2009 PEN/Hemingway Award for his novel A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living, and he received a Whiting Award in 2010. He is currently the Booth Tarkington Writer-in-Residence at Butler University in Indianapolis.
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