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A Gentleman's Guide to Graceful Living: A Novel Hardcover – June 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Dahlie's entertaining debut, Arthur Camden is a fly fisherman, devoted husband and father, and minor Manhattan socialite who would like nothing more than to avoid troubling introspection. Yet his slow botching of the family import-export business and the sudden dissolution of his marriage certainly have something to do with his bursting into tears at a meeting of the Hanover Street Fly Casters—a men's club founded by his great-grandfather—and declaring his steadfast love for its members. This display of emotion is only the first crack in his reputation, and a sojourn to his son's Colorado ranch begins a retreat to the safety of the club's restricted world, while sorting out a bevy of complex feelings he struggles to recognize, let alone process. In the balance is nothing short of his identity and self-worth, stakes that debut novelist Dahlie makes abundantly clear with light comic touches. Dahlie's dry and understated portrayal of old upper-crust Manhattan is as crisp and authentic as a well-made gin and tonic; the various turns of plot are swift and precise; and one is soon rooting for Arthur to get his groove back. (June)
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Portrait of a well-heeled wimp. When we first middle-aged New Yorker has reached his nadir. He has run the family import-export business into the ground, and his trampy wife Rebecca has fishing club, the Fly Casters, and he has his tearful breakdown in front of his fellow out. Then Arthur dates a woman called Rixa who rules to sneak in strangers. The evening is a disaster; accident-prone Arthur causes a fire and bursts into tears as the club burns down. Park Avenue apartment and enough money to sustain a work-free lifestyle. Time to escape Manhattan. He takes up the reluctantly proffered invitation of an old school friend with a nice spread in the French Alps, but Prentice Ross is no more a friend now than his erstwhile fishing alcoholic who lands Arthur in trouble with the cops; lacking the guts to deck Ross, Arthur beats a hasty retreat to Switzerland. Instead of a plot Dahlie arranges a series of scenes that humiliate Arthur without granting him self-knowledge; the point being, presumably, family reunion on Nantucket he steals his only to have its loud alarm incriminate him, a moment of primitive farce. Farce is followed by wild improbability when ex-wife Rebecca, quite drunk, pressures Arthur into meaningless sex, leading him to hope for a reconciliation. Fat an exercise in schadenfreude that is not remotely funny.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393066177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393066173
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,053,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Arvidson on June 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It's a page turner as the story unfolds of the misadventures of the protagonist Arthur. He's sort of a blue-blooded 'everyman' who faces one personal disaster after the next in his pursuit of peaceful, retirement years. I cringed at some of his pitfalls (the same way I cringed at the actions of the David Brent character in the BBC version of "The Office"). You can't help but cheer this guy on as he embattles his own damaged psyche and various foes. I especially enjoyed Arthur's ill-fated trip to see a childhood friend in France (things go wrong to say the least - well pretty much everything goes wrong for Arthur).Thanks to the author for a very enjoyable read with good laughs along the way.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Judith Miller VINE VOICE on July 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO GRACEFUL LIVING, Michael Dahlie presents us with a rather unique central character by the name of Arthur Camden. Arthur sounds perfect on paper. He is from old money. He has had many things handed to him, and lives what looks like an enviable lifestyle. Inherited wealth which allows him to be a member of New York society, nice homes, expensive clothes, the ability to dine in the best restaurants and to travel wherever he pleases. On the surface, Arthur seems very, very lucky.

However, Arthur's life is in crisis. His wife wants to divorce him for reasons he does not quite understand. He's ruined the family business and a vicious relative treats him with contempt in front of his son. His inherited membership in the very exclusive fly-fishing club called Maidenhead Grange is terminated because he broke an important rule of the club and ended up causing a fire. There are more than a couple of situations that turn out to be completely hilarious! Truth is, Arthur does not understand how any of these things happened. He always meant well and tried to do the correct thing and play by the rules. He searches his mind and memory to try to discern how all of the events came about, but again, he's not always sure how he could have done anything differently, but he wants to change.

In spite of the fact that Arthur does blunder along through life, it's true that he's a nice guy and means well. The real indication of a good story is when the reader personally cares what happens to the characters. With each page, I was cheering for Arthur and hoping against hope that he would not do what I could sense might be coming along in the next paragraph. The author takes the reader into the unforgettable life of a man who does his best to always be a gentleman. I believe that I have met an Arthur or two before in my life, but thanks to Michael Dahlie, now I may understand them a little better!

A very pleasurable read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SEPpietoeing Around the Maypole on October 6, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have no idea how to categorize this book. It seems to be almost a stream-of-consciousness relating of a year in the life of a recently divorced, recently unemployed, middle-aged (and wealthy) man. There is very little detail about scene, events, people, places, etc. but a great deal of attention paid to what the main character is thinking. Most of the time he is thinking about his own problems, what to do about them, how they came about, and what could have been done differently. Even though he was obviously born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he's also very much an Everyman. He has the same insecurities and feelings of inadequacy that the average man (or woman) on the street does. He's not a particularly effectual person, but he has character, a moral code, and a good heart. As he thinks his life through over the course of approximately a year, he comes to realize what he does value, and the difference between true friendship/affection and merely superficial acquantanceship or polite tolerance.

This was a very quirky book, and probably wouldn't be to everyone's taste, but I loved it. There was something almost voyeuristic about being 'inside' the head of a very wealthy man who was living a life that most of us can only dream about, and realize that he's all-too-human and that money most certainly does not buy happiness. Even though Arthur (the main character) spends most of his time either moping or worrying, this is not a serious book - there's always an undercurrent of humor although that may just be because the handling of the story is so quirky and different. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who likes quirkiness or who would like to get inside the minds of the 'other half'. I almost never give out 5 stars, but this was a gem!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on July 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How much of Arthur resides in all of us we may not know, but if the main character of Michael Dahlie's new book, "A Gentleman's Guide to Graceful Living" is any indication, it might be more than we think. Or at least it was with me. Dahlie presents a tour de force in his portrayal of Arthur, the sixty-something recently-divorced loner who, unsteadily but unsparingly, goes about picking up the pieces of his midlife crisis. To be sure, there are those who help him along the way, but there are those whose roadblocks to empowerment are sometimes so strong that Arthur seems bewildered about how to respond or make a move.

The author's narrative is riveting in its simplicity and his feel for Arthur never wavers. It doesn't take long for the reader to know that we're all in this life with Arthur, cheering him on, picking him up, urging him forward and hoping for the best. Through it all, Arthur maintains a special individual integrity accompanied by gin and tonics, scotches, wine, lobster, the Catskills, France and Manhattan and more than one woman. While it might be nice to have money or have had it, Arthur is always on the edge, and so is the reader.

One wonders how Arthur would have fared if he had been truly alone...no family, fewer friends, widowed or perhaps even gay. That's a sequel for the author to consider. But in "A Gentleman's Guide to Graceful Living", Michael Dahlie has set a high standard of entertainment and desire with just enough of a trampoline cushion to keep Arthur afloat and all of us happy...and wanting more.
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