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About Schmidt Hardcover – September 3, 1996

3.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Albert Schmidt is a retired lawyer who misses his recently deceased wife, has an unhealthy diet, is a mild anti-Semite and owns a nice home in the Hamptons he feels compelled to offer to his daughter as a wedding present. Said daughter, Charlotte, is a yuppie in all the worst ways. She handles public relations for tobacco companies, doesn't want the house in the Hamptons, and is about to marry a buttoned-up Jewish lawyer. The conflict takes off from there in this finely told tale of retirement, inheritance, and death.

From Publishers Weekly

Both Auchincloss's sophisticated comedies of WASP manners and the terrain mapped in Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day come to mind as comparisons for Begley's new novel, but his discerning intellect and lapidary prose distinguish this powerful story of a man whose fall from grace has a double-edged irony. Albert Schmidt retired from his job in a white-shoe New York law office during his wife's terminal illness. In his 60s, he lives in her magnificent family home in the exclusive Long Island community of Bridgehampton, where he makes sardonic observations about those who betray his archaic values and rigid social standards. The most egregious traitor is his beautiful, brilliant (i.e., Harvard summa cum laude) daughter, Charlotte, whose decision to marry a blatantly ambitious Jewish lawyer is a bitter blow to Schmidt?although he remains outwardly civil. Schmidt has no idea that his cool, remote behavior has alienated Charlotte, that she is aware of the veiled anti-Semitism he himself denies and that her new family, which Schmidt thinks vulgar, offers the warmth and human contact he has never provided. With sublime, delicious irony, Begley shows Schmidt's bizarre metamorphosis from a pillar of rectitude to a silly old fool; a Puerto Rican waitress younger than Charlotte is the instrument of Schmidt's descent down the primrose path. Taking advantage of Schmidt's loneliness, streetwise Carrie uses her sexual wiles to move herself and her drug-dealing boyfriend into his house and life. Begley guides the narrative with smooth aplomb and dry humor, providing a wealth of acutely observed social detail and a clear depiction of emotional dysfunction. Though his classic Holocaust novel, Wartime Lies, is a standard Begley can't improve upon, this elegant, sophisticated novel is another study in self-deception that confirms his reputation as a masterful literary novelist.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 3, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450337
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,486,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is so simply written that it just might fool you into thinking that it is a simple book. Far from it. This is a rich, layered, nuanced plot with complex characters and powerful themes of loss, anti-Semitism, aging, and generation gaps. I found myself getting so lost in the pure pleasure of reading this novel that I frequently forgot that I was reading a book that was short-listed for the National Book Critics' Circle Award - a prize usually given to novels that require effort to muscle your way through.
Begley's background as an attorney shows through clearly. He is not your typical writer. You'll find little of the literary fluff, not much symbolism, no strong attachment to any particular technique or structure. Instead, his minimalist prose allows the reader to focus on the story, on the characters, and most importantly, on the themes. Much has been said about the notion that the reader is supposed to pass judgment on Schmidt - hence the title, a legal reference implying that the author is presenting a case or a brief. But is there any doubt about who is guilty and who is innocent here? Schmidt, for all of his flaws, is clearly the hero. Yes, he feels more comfortable with people of his own kind than with outsiders, but who doesn't? His heart is in the right place, for the most part, and Begley draws a rich portrait of a daughter who becomes self-absorbed in her unjustified resentment as she distances herself from her father. Begley's exploration of this rift is beautiful for its subtlety, and for its ability to present a morally unambiguous case without sacrificing its complexity.
Who can explain, however, the bizarre adaptation for the screen that recently came out?
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Format: Paperback
By now you've probably seen the movie, and read reviews that say movie and book are quite different. 'S true. But they are at heart the same...gently exploring a prickly yet subtle man, leading a life of quiet desperation, less tears than wistful sighs, less chest-pounding than weary acceptance. The movie pokes you a little bit more, but I guess it has to. Plot is not the deal here, nor is dialogue, even. It's all character. Schmidt is in a period of great loss, his catastrophic losses (retirement, wife's death) ill preparation for the smaller, more damaging ones (daughter patronizes him, he realizes the relationship was based on the mother and he was just an extra). This book reminded me of Updike's 'Rabbit' series, though this one is a more pleasant read. I was glad to find this author and will read more of his. Highly, highly recommended.
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By A Customer on June 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
About Schmidt is an absolutely mesmerizing read. I had previously read Mistler's Exit and eagerly looked forward to reading this book. It did not disappoint.
The character of Schmidt is not a likeable one but fascinating none the less. Still coming to terms with the death of his wife he doesn't know quite how to react to his daughters love for a partner in his old firm. The fact that the boyfriend is jewish does not help matters. He manages to maintain a distant relationship with her but realizes that she is repudiating her past in order to become part of his family and after marriage she will convert to Judaism.
The emotional turmoil that pervades this book is as heartrending as it is self inflicted. The moral if there is one is that one must come to terms with ones past. With the death of his wife and the loss of his daughter Schmidt's journey to self awareness and acceptance is compelling reading. If you seek a story about the soul of a man then this book is for you, warts and all.
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Format: Paperback
Begley writes beautifully; his prose is seemingly effortless, although I'm sure it took many drafts to make it seem that way. Schmidt is a compelling protagonist, and his story is artfully told -- at least until the final fifty pages or so. The ending is far too abrupt, and the loose ends are tied up so neatly (and so much in Schmidt's favor) as to be unbelievable. It's not simply a compliment to Begley's writing style to say I wanted the book to go on longer; the story itself demanded to be longer. A more
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Format: Hardcover
Having never read Begley before, I did not know what to expect. I'm happy to report that once I got used to his style (complex sentence constructions), I settled in and really enjoyed this book.

Albert Schmidt, it seems, should be someone whose butt we want to kick. He's grouchy and way too stuck on himself. But he's also quite observant, and this is ultimately what made me like him. He can sniff out a phony at twenty paces and he's not afraid to challenge those who pry too deeply (witness his altercation with his son-in-law-to-be's mother, a psychiatrist who takes it upon herself to lift Schmidtie from the depression he's been in since the death of his wife. He combats her phychiatrist's offensive with his attorney's defense and it's rather humorous).

Though Schmidt spends much of the book moping around and looking back on his life, he begins to let his hair down when he takes up with a feisty waitress, who gets him thinking about possibilities. Is she only doting on him to get a big tip? The passages in which Schmidt and Carrie's relationship develops are really touching.

In Albert Schmidt, Begley has created a truly memorable character in less than three hundred pages. Begley's prose is elegant -- it's obvious he worked hard on this book. I wish I could say the same for Richard Ford, whose "Women with Men" I read just before this book. Compared to Begley's latest work, Ford's collection is light and airy, puff pastry crud. I recommend Ford read "About Schmidt" before he embarks on his next project
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