From Publishers Weekly
The author of About Schmidt
, Begley returns with an elegant novel of enduring friendship. Sam Standish, the adopted son of an alcoholic banker, arrives at Harvard in the early 1950s in genteel poverty, but with an unexpected trust fund to finance his education. His roommates are the incongruously named Archibald P. Palmer III, an army brat who goes by Archie, and Henry White, a rough-edged, fiercely smart Jewish refugee (born Henryk Weiss in Poland). Sam, who achieves a measure of success as a literary novelist, narrates their 50 years of friendship. His opaque romantic life suggests he may be gay, but the heart of this tragedy of manners is Sam's compelling assessment of class and social cachet in America, and of the ambient anti-Semitism that nearly drives Henry crazy, as he makes and abandons a fortune. Archie drops out of the narrative after he dies in a drunken car accident months after the Kennedy assassination, but Sam and Henry reconnect many years after Henry's disappearance for one last reunion of old friends. It's a story covered by everyone from Cheever to Roth, but Begley finds new and wonderful nuances within it. (Jan. 29)
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Begley continues his sojourn among the elite with this absorbing novel about the nature of identity and the costs of assimilation. The novel's narrator is Sam, whose murky parentage and alcoholic parents have tainted his standing among his status-conscious Harvard classmates in the early 1950s. His two roommates are also outsiders--Archie, the spoiled son of an army officer, has a taste for the high life, while the brilliant Henry, a Polish refugee whose family survived the war in hiding, must constantly negotiate the fraught terrain between his devoted parents and his anti-Semitic classmates. Sam and Archie are eager to help Henry fit in, carefully schooling him on manners, clothes, and the right connections. Over the next decades, through, Henry is the one who achieves the greatest worldly success, making his fortune as an international investment banker. But a career snag provokes a much larger crisis, and Henry cuts off all previous ties. In full Henry James mode, Begley uses a lucid prose style to dispassionately eviscerate the upper classes even as he illuminates the true meaning of friendship. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved