The Land of Steady Habits

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Overview

"This assured, compassionate first novel channels the suburban angsty of Updike and Cheever...with pitch-perfect prose and endearingly melancholy characters."--Booklist (Starred Review)

Anders Hill, entering his early sixties and seemingly ensconced in the "land of steady habits"--a nickname for the affluent, morally strict hamlets of Connecticut that dot his commuter rail line--abandons his career and family for a new condo and a new life. Stripped of the comforts of his ...

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Overview

"This assured, compassionate first novel channels the suburban angsty of Updike and Cheever...with pitch-perfect prose and endearingly melancholy characters."--Booklist (Starred Review)

Anders Hill, entering his early sixties and seemingly ensconced in the "land of steady habits"--a nickname for the affluent, morally strict hamlets of Connecticut that dot his commuter rail line--abandons his career and family for a new condo and a new life. Stripped of the comforts of his previous identity, Anders turns up at a holiday party full of his ex-wife's friends and is suprised to find that the very world he rejected may be one he needs.

Thus Anders embarks on a clumsy, hilarious, and heartbreaking journey to reconcile his past with his present. Like the early work of John Updike, Ted Thompson's first novel finely observes a man in deep conflict with his community. With compassion for its characters and fresh insight into the American tradition of the "suburban narrative," THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS introduces an auspicious talent.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

After a long career and marriage set in the affluent Connecticut "land of steady habits," Anders Hill decides that much of his life has been misspent fulfilling exhausting obligations that he can no longer value. To rectify decades of tedium, this new retiree drops his wife, buys a condo and embarks on a campaign to free himself. Of course, his belated coming-of-age story becomes much more complicated almost as soon as he begins enacting it. Ted Thompson's first novel already has been compared to the works of Cheever and Updike, but this is no imitation of older works; this is a portrait of contemporary society that most of us can recognize.

Publishers Weekly
01/06/2014
Late-life divorce is the subject of Thompson’s acutely written first novel. Approaching retirement age, Anders Hill is recently divorced from his wife, Helene. They have two adult children, who don’t seem especially fond of their father, especially the troubled younger one, Preston, who has yet to find himself. But as lost as Preston is, he is still in much better condition than Charlie, the substance-abusing, preppy son of Helene’s best friends who inexplicably turns to Anders for support, this at a time when Anders is having difficulty supporting himself, both financially and spiritually. Things become even more complicated when Anders finds out that Helene is living in his old house with a new lover, Donny, a mutual friend from their college days. As a wickedly sharp framing device, Anders’s travails come to a head during the Christmas season. This novel is basically a series of confrontations, but Thompson is a master at dramatically pitting one character against another. The story takes place in Connecticut, and the author proves to be as keen an observer of this social scene as his literary forebears, Cheever and Updike. Anders, Helene, their children, lovers and friends, might not be the most likable group of characters you’ll come across, but the author humanizes them in a way that makes their problems relatable. (Mar.)
Maggie Shipstead
"With impeccable prose, dry wit, and uncommon wisdom, Ted Thompson brings to life one family's painful disappointments and powerful resilience. The Land of Steady Habits combines Austen's shrewd mastery of domestic economics with Updike's compassion for the melancholy commuter to make something elegant, fresh, and brilliant."
Charles D'Ambrosio
"In his beautiful and generously imagined debut, Ted Thompson will rightly draw comparisons to other chroniclers of suburban life -Updike, Cheever-but I think we need to dig deeper into the tradition-to John O'Hara-because The Land of Steady Habits is our Appointment in Samarra and Anders Hill is our Julian English. Whether it's a society built on coal or one collapsing under the weight of credit default swaps, both novels explore what ails America by looking into the wrecked hearts of those who seem to have everything and now must reckon the high cost of the good life. Over the course of a single holiday season, Thompson takes Anders on a tragicomic ride, through exile and redemption, until a new kind of hero emerges, human and fallible, a man who becomes more for having accepted less and finds greatness because he chooses decency. Fearless and tremendously moving , The Land of Steady Habits tells a story we need to hear and announces the arrival of a voice we should all welcome."
Sarah Vowell
"It would probably never occur to New England white people that they are an ethnicity, but this sharp and funny saga of a Connecticut family unraveling is a detailed natural history of upper crust suburbanites and how they live (and drink). The reader learns not to take good fortune and loved ones for granted--and also that a liquor store owner in Westport will never starve."
Darin Strauss
"Ted Thompson will be weighed against some famous Johns -- Updike and Cheever -- for the usual wrong reasons. (Suburbs, separation.) But the comparison is apt in all the ways that matter: because the prose is sumptuous, the characterizations economically brilliant, the themes still important and universal. Because this is a great book. And readers who sample its riches will be greedy to scoop up the entire treasure of it. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we may have found our generation's Rabbit, Run."
Charles Baxter
"A book that is funny, shrewd, and heartbreaking by turns, The Land of Steady Habits concerns the lost-and-found souls of Connecticut and Manhattan, and at every point this novel offers both pleasure and insight into its cast of characters. You don't expect a first novel to be as inward and worldly as this one is, and at the same time to be so readable. Ted Thompson's dialogue is so good, so unerring, that he must have perfect pitch. A wonderful debut."
From the Publisher
"Filled with heartache and humor, this assured, compassionate first novel channels the suburban angst of Updike and Cheever, updating the narrative of midlife dissatisfaction with a scathing dissection of America's imploding economy...with pitch-perfect prose and endearingly melancholy characters, Thompson offers up a heartbreaking vision of an ailing family and country." --STARRED Booklist
Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-10
That particularly American novel, examining the soul-crushing consequences of suburban prosperity, is modernized here as a successful financier looks around his life and sees a wasteland. Southerner Anders Hill went to great lengths to avoid the upstanding conformity his father had planned for him, but at age 60, he's not sure what difference it's made. Sickened by the greed of Wall Street and his own personal culpability in all sorts of financial collateral damage, Anders embarks on a kind of slash-and-burn approach to his life: He opts for early retirement, asks his wife, Helene, for a divorce (kindly put on hold for a year while she recovers from a double mastectomy), stops paying the mortgage on their colonial and holes up in a condo he furnishes with Winslow Homer posters and decorative lobster traps. Anders' existential crisis, simmering for 20 years, is a rejection of everything he's built—the beautiful house in a tony Connecticut bedroom community (think Greenwich), two sons and a lovely wife—but now what? Meanwhile, thanks to Facebook, Helene has a boyfriend, Donny, who was Anders' college roommate and Helene's college boyfriend. An outcast among their friends, Anders has formed an unlikely friendship with Charlie, the rebellious teenage son of Mitchell and Sophie Ashby. After smoking PCP with Charlie at a holiday party (which sends Charlie to the hospital), Anders begins to fall apart in subtle but disturbing ways. Anders and Helene's son Preston is an adult version of Charlie. After a wasted youth following Phish, dealing drugs, and beginning and quitting various programs and colleges, he finally has a college degree but not enough sense to use it. The three stages of the Connecticut man—Charlie, Preston and Anders—in this land of steady habits, have the instinct to rebel but lack the imagination to live happily. Thompson's sharp-eyed debut is that kind of searing portrait of American wealth unraveling that is both dazzling and immeasurably sad.
From the Publisher
Selected as a Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers pick of 2014

An Amazon Best Book of 2014

"Filled with heartache and humor, this assured, compassionate first novel channels the suburban angst of Updike and Cheever, updating the narrative of midlife dissatisfaction with a scathing dissection of America's imploding economy...with pitch-perfect prose and endearingly melancholy characters, Thompson offers up a heartbreaking vision of an ailing family and country." —STARRED Booklist

"With impeccable prose, dry wit, and uncommon wisdom, Ted Thompson brings to life one family's painful disappointments and powerful resilience. The Land of Steady Habits combines Austen's shrewd mastery of domestic economics with Updike's compassion for the melancholy commuter to make something elegant, fresh, and brilliant."—Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements

"In his beautiful and generously imagined debut, Ted Thompson will rightly draw comparisons to other chroniclers of suburban life -Updike, Cheever-but I think we need to dig deeper into the tradition-to John O'Hara-because The Land of Steady Habits is our Appointment in Samarra and Anders Hill is our Julian English. Whether it's a society built on coal or one collapsing under the weight of credit default swaps, both novels explore what ails America by looking into the wrecked hearts of those who seem to have everything and now must reckon the high cost of the good life. Over the course of a single holiday season, Thompson takes Anders on a tragicomic ride, through exile and redemption, until a new kind of hero emerges, human and fallible, a man who becomes more for having accepted less and finds greatness because he chooses decency. Fearless and tremendously moving , The Land of Steady Habits tells a story we need to hear and announces the arrival of a voice we should all welcome."—Charles D'Ambrosio, author of The Point and The Dead Fish Museum

"It would probably never occur to New England white people that they are an ethnicity, but this sharp and funny saga of a Connecticut family unraveling is a detailed natural history of upper crust suburbanites and how they live (and drink). The reader learns not to take good fortune and loved ones for granted—and also that a liquor store owner in Westport will never starve."—Sarah Vowell, author of Unfamiliar Fishes and Assassination Vacation

"Ted Thompson will be weighed against some famous Johns — Updike and Cheever — for the usual wrong reasons. (Suburbs, separation.) But the comparison is apt in all the ways that matter: because the prose is sumptuous, the characterizations economically brilliant, the themes still important and universal. Because this is a great book. And readers who sample its riches will be greedy to scoop up the entire treasure of it. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we may have found our generation's Rabbit, Run."—Darin Strauss, author of Half Life and More Than It Hurts You

"A book that is funny, shrewd, and heartbreaking by turns, The Land of Steady Habits concerns the lost-and-found souls of Connecticut and Manhattan, and at every point this novel offers both pleasure and insight into its cast of characters. You don't expect a first novel to be as inward and worldly as this one is, and at the same time to be so readable. Ted Thompson's dialogue is so good, so unerring, that he must have perfect pitch. A wonderful debut."—Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love

"Thompson's sharp-eyed debut is that kind of searing portrait of American wealth unraveling that is both dazzling and immeasurably sad." -Kirkus Reviews

"Ted Thompson's elegiac yet bighearted take on adult disillusionment earns its comparisons to suburbans bards such as Updike and Cheever."—The Wall Street Journal Magazine

"Ted Thompson's terrific debut novel, The Land of Steady Habits, feels like a natural extension of Yates' classic Revolutionary Road or Updike's Rabbit series. Call this elegant, witty and economical novel Rabbit, Meltdown. It's not a stretch to say that this is the first great novel about post-crash American disillusionment."—NY1's The Book Reader

"In this impressive debut, Thompson delivers a vivid portrait of life in America's suburban upper crust explored through a splintering family. Through sharply written prose and fiery dialogue, Thompson's characters come alive: a recently retired husband on the brink of self-destruction; a conflicted wife in the midst of an affair; a middle-aged son in an "extended state of adolescence"; and a pair of pretentious neighbors with a precocious, rebellious teen. Together their lives, as they unravel and collide, weave a story that is at once honest, raw, heartbreaking, and comical... The novel finds its real power in the authenticity of its characters, in Thompson's ability to craft raw humans beneath the social pageantry of their external lives, relatable in their irritations, ethical lapses, and small triumphs... Thompson displays a keen ability to capture human emotion and interior conflict, and it is this stunning realism that consistently captivates the reader."—Bustle

"Thompson skillfully and knowingly maps the familiar intergenerational terrain of WASP ennui with a warmth that is ultimately redeeming."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Thompson has a great gift for storytelling, and this is that rare book that would translate well to the big screen but doesn't seem to have been written with the movies in mind. The Land of Steady Habits is a success in most of the important ways. It is entertaining. It is written in impeccable... prose. Its characters feel like real people. Thompson has taken very well-worn territory-the footprints of Cheever and Yates are everywhere in evidence-and produced something that never feels like a retread."—The Daily Beast

"This funny, bittersweet debut... is a new entry in that rich American genre, the novel of the suburbs. Thompson, refreshingly, finds his own path through this well-traversed landscape... one of the great charms of The Land of Steady Habits is that Thompson never really points fingers; ironic wit and absurd comedy abound, but he's not interested in condemning the suburban life. His characters are neither shallow nor morally bankrupt; on the contrary, each is wrestling, however ineptly, with the vexing binaries of the human condition, the choices between freedom and obligation, between self-fulfillment and the commitments of love."—Washington Independent Review of Books

"Ted Thompson's The Land of Steady Habits, set in a wealthy Connecticut commuter town, seems to cause most readers to immediately reach for the Cheever and Updike comparisons. But Thompson's novel makes the territory utterly its own. Its central character, Anders, manages to be sympathetic and blindly destructive all at once, and Thompson works him for both raucous humor and real insight. A sly, painstaking portrait of an unraveling marriage and a crumbling culture. And on a purely technical level, so elegant and meticulously arranged that I kept looking for hidden wires. There are none. Honesty is the only trick here."—San Francisco Chronicle

Charles Baxter
"A book that is funny, shrewd, and heartbreaking by turns, The Land of Steady Habits concerns the lost-and-found souls of Connecticut and Manhattan, and at every point this novel offers both pleasure and insight into its cast of characters. You don't expect a first novel to be as inward and worldly as this one is, and at the same time to be so readable. Ted Thompson's dialogue is so good, so unerring, that he must have perfect pitch. A wonderful debut."
Darin Strauss
"Ted Thompson will be weighed against some famous Johns -- Updike and Cheever -- for the usual wrong reasons. (Suburbs, separation.) But the comparison is apt in all the ways that matter: because the prose is sumptuous, the characterizations economically brilliant, the themes still important and universal. Because this is a great book. And readers who sample its riches will be greedy to scoop up the entire treasure of it. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we may have found our generation's Rabbit, Run."
Sarah Vowell
"It would probably never occur to New England white people that they are an ethnicity, but this sharp and funny saga of a Connecticut family unraveling is a detailed natural history of upper crust suburbanites and how they live (and drink). The reader learns not to take good fortune and loved ones for granted--and also that a liquor store owner in Westport will never starve."
Maggie Shipstead
"With impeccable prose, dry wit, and uncommon wisdom, Ted Thompson brings to life one family's painful disappointments and powerful resilience. The Land of Steady Habits combines Austen's shrewd mastery of domestic economics with Updike's compassion for the melancholy commuter to make something elegant, fresh, and brilliant."
Charles D'Ambrosio
"In his beautiful and generously imagined debut, Ted Thompson will rightly draw comparisons to other chroniclers of suburban life -Updike, Cheever-but I think we need to dig deeper into the tradition-to John O'Hara-because The Land of Steady Habits is our Appointment in Samarra and Anders Hill is our Julian English. Whether it's a society built on coal or one collapsing under the weight of credit default swaps, both novels explore what ails America by looking into the wrecked hearts of those who seem to have everything and now must reckon the high cost of the good life. Over the course of a single holiday season, Thompson takes Anders on a tragicomic ride, through exile and redemption, until a new kind of hero emerges, human and fallible, a man who becomes more for having accepted less and finds greatness because he chooses decency. Fearless and tremendously moving , The Land of Steady Habits tells a story we need to hear and announces the arrival of a voice we should all welcome."
Library Journal
01/01/2014
As a rebellious teen, Anders Hill rejects his father's plans for his future and succeeds on his own. In doing so, he finds himself in the land of steady habits, commuting to a finance job in Manhattan from a bedroom community in Connecticut. Now in his 60s, Anders realizes that the underlying satisfaction of having achieved success is eroded by his certainty that this is not the life he is meant to lead. The idyllic world he has created for himself unravels in one horrific year when he quits his job, divorces his wife, abandons his children, and befriends a neighbor's son, who then commits suicide. Anders is at a new crossroads; is the life he gave up the one he was destined to live? VERDICT Thompson, a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, crafts a story replete with characters searching for something other than what they have. Fans of John Updike will enjoy this book by a young, upcoming writer. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/13.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316186568
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 3/25/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 629,251
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ted Thompson is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he was awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship. His work has appeared in Tin House and Best New American Voices, among other publications. He was born in Connecticut and lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Ted Thompson, Author of The Land of Steady Habits

You're still pretty young. Why write a book about a man in his sixties?

Aristotle's classic observation about storytelling, that "character is desire," has always kind of intrigued and baffled me?the idea that what we want tells us who we are. It has always seemed more accurate to me that the opposite is true?what we fear tells us just as much. When it comes to writing, I've found that starting with what I fear tends to yield much richer material. So Anders Hill, the main character of the novel, in a way came out of that. I think it's probably easy to imagine yourself into a situation where it feels as though you're living the wrong life, but to me the greater fear was in sticking with it, continuing to do all the right and good things, and still ending up in a place where you resent the very people and world you sacrificed for.
Put another way, dissatisfaction in itself isn't all that interesting to me. But I found tremendous power in a character who had seen his commitments through to the end and still found himself unhappy.
Of course, all of this came from the point of view of a young person trying to make sense of the nature of responsibility?what we owe each other and what we owe ourselves. There was something humorous and tragic to me about somebody still grappling with these questions even after the bulk of his career and its responsibilities had passed. Someone once told me that every first novel is a coming-of-age story. So all that is to say that maybe I just happened to write one about a guy in his sixties.

The premise sounds familiar. Is the novel a throwback?

I hope not. Though many of my favorite books were written in the mid twentieth century by people?let's be honest, most were by men (the guys really seemed to be hung up on this stuff, although I think of Paula Fox's Desperate Characters as its own magnificent cousin to these books)?who were uncomfortable with the conformity of post-war domestic life. It's its own subgenre of American fiction (and movies, and TV). And like any genre, once you accept its terms, it provides a form that opens up all sorts of interesting ways to play with it. I had yet to see, for example, a novel that began after the suburban family had imploded. Usually, that was the end of the story, but I was interested in starting there, and entering at that place of chaos and uncertainty, where all of the roles had been stripped away, and where the narrative map had kind of stopped. It seemed to me there was an interesting story to be told about what happens after.

Was the novel inspired by the financial crisis?

It might not be the best to admit this, but it actually wasn't. I had begun this novel as a short story long before 2008, and had most of a draft written before all of that went down. But as I worked on subsequent drafts of the novel, I realized I had to address the realities of it, especially for a man who had a career in finance and who left it unhappily. So the financial crisis kind of worked its way into the book gradually, one detail at a time, until it felt as much a part of the setting as the weather. I suppose I had wanted it to remain in the background, never as a precipitating event for the story, but always a psychological factor in the characters' daily lives?the creeping sense that for the first time in a very long time this gigantic economic engine that had continually rewarded them could no longer be trusted.

How much did you set out to critique of a certain way of life?

Not much at all. Taking shots at suburbia doesn't seem all that fun for anyone?I mean, what new could possibly be said? The book is set where it is because it happens to be a world I know. I'm from that part of Connecticut, and one of the interesting things was that the further I wrote into the novel, even when close to the point of view of a character who had angrily rejected the place, I found that the story ended up being a kind of elegy for it, and that the whole messy experience of this one holiday season turned into a kind of fond goodbye. While both Anders and his son do a lot of raging against the place, ultimately I was surprised to find that the novel was full of tenderness for it, and they both are full of sorrow for the inevitable relinquishment of home.

Who have you discovered lately?

Oh my gosh, so much. I loved Nina McConigley's gorgeous collection of stories Cowboys & East Indians, which charts an American West I had never encountered before. Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation is a marvel of a book that is doing things with form that seem effortless and as a writer I found totally inspiring. I can't remember a book that made me laugh more than Gabriel Roth's The Unknowns I read it several months ago and I'm still thinking about it.
I've also been reading a lot of plays. When I first started writing I was mostly interested in playwriting, and now I work as an editor in the book-publishing program at Theatre Communications Group, where I've come in contact with the work of some truly amazing writers. Annie Baker (whose play The Aliens just knocked me flat and made me rethink what dialogue can do) and Amy Herzog (whose Great God Pan is a masterpiece of economy) both have the lightest touch and some of the finest ears for language I've ever encountered. Even if you're not a theatergoer, I can't recommend their work highly enough.
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