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The Hazards of Good Breeding
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The Hazards of Good Breeding

4.0 7
by Jessica Shattuck, Fareed Zakaria

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The "pitch perfect" (Los Angeles Times) first novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle.This "richly appointed and generously portrayed" (Kirkus Reviews) debut novel tells the story of a WASPy, old-Boston family coming face to face with an America much larger than the one it was born in. Told from five perspectives, the novel spans


The "pitch perfect" (Los Angeles Times) first novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle.This "richly appointed and generously portrayed" (Kirkus Reviews) debut novel tells the story of a WASPy, old-Boston family coming face to face with an America much larger than the one it was born in. Told from five perspectives, the novel spans an explosive week in the life of the Dunlaps, culminating in a series of events that will change their way of life forever.Caroline Dunlap has written off the insular world of the Boston deb parties, golf club luaus, and WASP weddings that she grew up with. But when she reluctantly returns home after her college graduation, she finds that not everything is quite as predictable, or protected, as she had imagined. Her father, the eccentric, puritanical Jack Dunlap, is carrying on stoically after the breakup of his marriage, but he can't stop thinking of Rosita, the family housekeeper he fired almost six months ago. Caroline's little brother, Eliot, is working on a giant papier-mâché diorama of their town—or is he hatching a plan of larger proportions? As the real reason for Rosita's departure is revealed, the novel culminates in a series of events that assault the fragile, sheltered, and arguably obsolete world of the Dunlaps.Opening a window into a family's repressed desires and fears, The Hazards of Good Breeding is a startlingly perceptive comedy of manners that heralds a new writer of dazzling talent.A New York Times Notable Selection and a Boston Globe Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

“Will naturally be compared to Cheever's stories and Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. What's more surprising is that it deserves a place beside those masterpieces.”
New York Times
“In her poised and astute first novel....Shattuck unleashes a skewering gift for social commentary.”
Maureen Howard
“The Hazards of Good Breeding is a stunning first novel…In this midsummer night’s dream of a story, her themes of social disintegration and search for responsibility are playfully worked to reveal an endgame of moving redemption.”
Roxana Robinson
“Jessica Shattuck has written a thoughtful and elegant first novel, full of insight and humor. It is set in a rarefied world, one that she knows intimately and reveals perceptively; one which, for all its flaws and eccentricities, she loves.”
Jill McCorkle
“With great skill and wisdom Jessica Shattuck weaves an intricate domestic web that highlights the most vulnerable threads in a myriad of relationships: parents, children, friends, and lovers. The Hazards of Good Breeding is all that the title promises and more. It is a terrific debut by a talented writer.”
Ann Beattie
“An excellent novel…The author avoids contrivance in presenting sensitive issues experienced by totally credible, thoughtful people and comes up with a new understanding of American life every bit as affecting as Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road.”
Binnie Kirshenbaum
“[A] sterling novel; a deliciously comic and deeply profound look at an American family, indeed at America itself.”
Helen Shulman
“With her sharp eye for detail and witty, winning prose, Jessica Shattuck takes the familiar story of a high-WASP family’s demise and turns it on its head. There are at least fifteen certifiable pleasures in every paragraph of this charming, intelligent, exceedingly well-crafted debut.”
Mark Rozzo - Los Angeles Times
“Reading Jessica Shattuck's pitch perfect first novel is like spying on the children and grandchildren of John Cheever's Wapshots.”
Jennifer Egan - New York Times Book Review
“In her poised and astute first novel…Shattuck unleashes a skewering gift for social commentary.”
Boston Globe
“Shattuck is a wonderful writer. Her domestic interiors and etched portraits of 'Bostonus erectus' evoke the surface of Vermeer, the gentle bite of Austen…A gracefully choreographed novel that shines a sharp, clear light on a dying world and brings it to vivid life.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“[With a] keen understanding of human nature and frailty [Shattuck] often displays a magnetic use of detail that not only makes her scenes come visually alive but also illuminates character.”
The New York Times
Shattuck's boldest move is her ending, which for a time seems in danger of being harmonious to the point of suspicion. But in the book's final section, told for the first time from Rosita's point of view, Shattuck blows a hole through this bonhomie. It's a risky move, but it's the one that finally elevates The Hazards of Good Breeding from a witty and promising first novel to a disturbing indictment of a superannuated subculture. — Jennifer Egan
Publishers Weekly
Shattuck's debut novel is a social comedy, with flashes of darker import, about an upper-crust Boston suburban family forced to come to terms with the pressures of contemporary life and the ways in which they succeed, or more frequently fail. Patriarch Jack Dunlap is a rigid, seemingly puritanical businessman whose stern eccentricities have driven his wife, Faith, out of the house and into a state of nervous exhaustion. Daughter Caroline, made of sterner stuff, is trying to get used to the family weirdness again after graduating from college and returning home to decide what to do with her life-which will probably not include continuing to see an old beau, pot-smoking Rock. Her little brother, Eliot, is attempting to come to terms with the loss of his beloved Colombian babysitter, Rosita, fired under mysterious circumstances. It is Rosita, a symbol of strength and resilience amid the flaky denizens of her adopted country, who becomes the center around which the anxieties and obsessions of the principals revolve, and she is perhaps too easy a symbol. Shattuck is an observant and graceful writer, and contrives some elegant and touching scenes, particularly as Faith begins to recover a sense of her womanhood with a charming French visitor. But the book, for all its virtues, feels excessively schematic, and various plot strands-like Caroline's involvement with a documentary filmmaker-are dropped too summarily. Blurbs compare it to the work of Richard Yates and John Cheever, but it has neither the somber anguish of the former or the comic, off-center lan of the latter. (Feb.) Forecast: The well-observed New England setting and characters could help this title to do well locally-Shattuck will tour the Northeast-but it's rather quiet to make much of a mark on the national scene. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Shattuck's first novel seems determined to demonstrate why the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ruling class is dying out. The Dunlop family of Concord, MA, and their tony social set are heavy-handedly portrayed as self-absorbed and superficial, showing little benefit from their Harvard educations. Father Jack dabbles with a company involved in ruthless acquisitions and has divorced Faith, who suffered a mental breakdown and moved to New York. Daughter Caroline, a recent Harvard graduate, has moved back home with no prospect of a job; her Zonker-like friend, Rock, has the run of the house. Meanwhile, Eliot, the youngest, bears the brunt of these empty lives, especially after his beloved Colombian babysitter, Rosita, is summarily fired. (We soon learn, along with family members, that Jack had a brief affair with her.) Shattuck tries to take us inside the heads of several characters, but the novel's overall condemning tone dominates. Shattuck would have done better to focus on crafting the story instead of making a comment on WASP irresponsibility. A marginal purchase.-Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A loopy, tightly wound WASP family in Concord, Massachusetts, unravels with the introduction of alien elements in a generously portrayed and richly appointed debut. Harvard graduate Caroline Dunlap has returned to her austere 19th-century family home in Paul Revere country to spend the summer planning what to do with her young and privileged life after the alarming breakup of her parents' 22-year marriage. Her stiff-upper-lip father, Jack, a wealthy entrepreneur in a textbook business, deals with his wife Faith's departure (and nervous breakdown) stoically, as is the custom of his emotionally frigid Yankee ancestors. Yet with a glimpse of the pregnant state of his former Colombian housekeeper, Rosita, whom he unceremoniously dismissed six months before despite the true affection she and his ten-year-old son Eliot share, Jack grows uncharacteristically troubled and self-questioning. In alternating third-person points of view, the reader is treated to a thorough, albeit forgiving, examination of the collapsing Dunlap state of affairs and of the rickety old-money network-an examination aided by Caroline's nosy, well-meaning, pot-addled schoolmate Rock Coughlin and an oily turncoat filmmaker who wants to get the story of The Last WASPS-from Puritans to Preppies on film. Shattuck, wisely, unearths the inherent comedy is these stilted, in-bred characters who can indeed laugh at themselves and remain sympathetic. Caroline's mother Faith-a nervous, pretty, and sheltered divorcée-spends the novel at a girlhood friend's home on Pea Island, afraid of facing her young, unsupervised son, and in the company of a terrifying Frenchman who encourages her to go skinny-dipping. "I'm used to not knowingwhat's going on," she concludes when Jack's scandalous situation with the former housekeeper is gradually revealed. Caroline, infatuated by the filmmaker, subscribes to a similar philosophy of safety in incuriosity-until young Eliot's need for love and attention drives everybody out of their collective, maddening self-absorption. Shattuck has done wonders bringing to luminous life her patriotic diorama.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Shattuck is the New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle, The Hazards of Good Breeding (a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award), and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, and Wired among others. A graduate of Harvard University, she received her MFA from Columbia University. Shattuck now lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, MA.

Brief Biography

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
April 2, 1972
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A. Harvard College, 1994; M.F.A. in Writing, Columbia University, 2001

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Hazards of Good Breeding 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book in a long string of good books I have recently read that were set in New England. It's very similar to Nancy Clark's The Hills at Home. Both have a New England family with it's blue-blood life becoming less and less relevant in the present day. And both have the family being documented by a young man who gets a little too close to the subject. The Hills at Home, however, made me feel as if I was in the house with the Hills, where Hazards felt like I was watching a documentary of the family. Plus, where Hazards was occasionally funny, The Hills was often laugh-out-loud funny. The Hazards of Good Breeding was a very good book, very well written, but came too soon after reading The Hills at Home to make me forget that excellent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The writing of this book really distracted me from the plot. It felt like the work of someone who's just taken a class in creative writing, and looks for every opening to use any literary elements possible. The amount of similes used in the first 25 pages almost made me stop reading altogether. The dialogue was a bit forced and various situations in the book just didn't seem believable. I didn't like Shattuck's tendency to take the role of the completely omniscient narrator, laying out in the beginning of the book everything about the characters' lives in a 'just-so' manner, and somehow linking that in really trite fashion to their inner personalities ('There is something secretive, but not dishonest, about his demeanor that comes, maybe, because in his lifetime he has already had so much exposure to silence.'). I also thought that the choice of writing the entire book in the present tense made it awkward. However, once I got through the style, I did find myself hooked by the plot and ended up finishing. It seems Shattuck tried to write the 'Great American Novel' her first time out and failed, but ended up with a fairly compelling beach read instead.
Guest More than 1 year ago
if this is the same Jessica Shattuck who used to cover the video game sector? If it is, then one person applauds her grand escape. I am going to buy this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gripping and unpredictable, this book blew me away. Isn't WASP-dom a tired subject? Not in this sharp, funny yet elegaic account of an old world family struggling with modern life. The characters are deeply memorable, their inner lives complex yet all too real. Amazing. The best novel i've read this year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely lyrical and perceptive book, rich with local color and larger significance. It shrewdly updates the comedy of manners and uses the anthropological technique of that genre to canny ends.