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The Vices Paperback – August 16, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590514157
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590514153
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #478,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“The second novel by Lawrence Douglas gave me delight on every page. I’m always careful about calling something Nabokovian, mostly because I’ll see that in a review and read the book in question and it’s fine but not as good as Nabokov, you know? But this one is Nabokovian—there is no other word.” —Ed Park, New York Magazine, “The Year in Books”

The Vices…is the sharp, stylish, suspenseful tale of Oliver Vice, a charismatic philosopher and art collector, and the provincial academic who falls under his spell. More than a campus novel, it is an elegant parable about the allure of self-invention.” —Adam Kirsch, The New Statesman, “Books of the year 2011”

“Playful and profound…As dazzlingly constructed as it is limpidly told, The Vices is a duplicitous delight that feels at home in this age of YouTube, e-mail, and the myriad other ways we consume and connect in this world…Lawrence Douglas gives conclusive evidence that he’s the real thing.” —Ed Park, Bookforum

“Smart...always fascinating...The novel’s biggest concern is how we construct personal narratives that accommodate slippery and unsteady acts of memory.” — A.P.D. Lawrie, Times Literary Supplement

“In its deft exploration of the way identity, especially Jewish identity, is constructed and performed, The Vices does justice to its elegant Nabokovian inspiration.” —Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine
“A good summer read…Making literal the phrase ‘literary sleuthing,’ [The Vices] combines the genres of academic and mystery novel.” —The Buffalo News

“Douglas delivers a probing and skillful examination of the conundrums of identity…masterfully kaleidoscopic…[The Vices] presents the reader with a stunning new vista.” —Publishers Weekly
“An intriguing, thought-provoking exploration of a man desperately unhappy to be living his own life.” —Booklist
“Darkly comic…[Douglas] masterly crafts a family portrait, where the paint has cracked to reveal human truths.” —Royal Young,

“Douglas elaborates on the inherent tensions that make up the contested borders of identity…This mystery is deceptively philosophical and introspective.” —Library Journal

“This brilliant, funny book will appeal to lovers of Jewish fiction and those who hunger to unravel mysteries.” —ForeWord Reviews

“At its core a mystery, The Vices is a witty, provocative, and devilishly entertaining book. Sometimes philosophical, sometimes wildly comic, Lawrence Douglas’s latest novel plays yearning against satisfaction, prestige against authenticity, and, ultimately, the desire to be someone else against the difficulty of inhabiting self.” —Sabina Murray, author of The Caprices and Forgery

“Though The Vices unfolds the complexity of its whodunit with an appealing urbanity and wryness, its central virtue is the compassionate intelligence of its depiction of pain: the anguish and secret costs of self-reinvention, and in the face of history’s miseries and deceits, the unexpected consolations of uncertainty.” —Jim Shepard, author of Like You’d Understand, Anyway
“Crisply told and vigorously compelling. Douglas’s bright sense of humor camouflages but does not ultimately conceal his haunting story’s menacing undertow.” —Brad Leithauser, author of The Art Student’s War

“Charming and exquisite, The Vices is an urbane comedy imbued with the eccentric verve of a Wes Anderson film and the piquant nostalgia of Brideshead Revisted.  It’s also a gripping tale of fraud, compromise, and the inventive ways we survive the nightmare of history.” —Zachary Lazar, author of Sway

“A sparkling, witty, smart-set comedy, the kind where human tragedy is best faced with sexy repartee, fine cuff links, and a game of Ping-Pong.” –Commonwealth Magazine

About the Author

Lawrence Douglas teaches at Amherst College. He is the author of the novel The Catastrophist (Other Press, 2006), a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, The Memory of Judgment (Yale University Press, 2001), a widely acclaimed study of war crimes trials; and coauthor of a book of humor, Sense and Nonsensibility (Simon & Schuster, 2004). His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, The Hudson Review, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, and Harper’s. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, Douglas lives in Sunderland, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

The story is told through the eyes of an unnamed first-person narrator.
Flora Fauna
Author Lawrence Douglas is very generous with his gifts of intelligence and erudition in The Vices.
Evelyn A. Getchell
The book is often funny, and quite sad, and remarkably satisfying once you're done.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Flora Fauna on August 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
While I enjoyed Douglas's first novel, The Catastrophist, I find his new one far more satisfying. The Vices does many things extremely well. The writing is sharp and vivid, the plot clever, and more than once I found myself deeply moved. The Catastrophist had a black humor that was a little too black for my taste. But in this new book, the humor is gentler and doesn't overwhelm the novel's serious philosophical themes, which deal with the nature of friendship and the limits of loyalty and self-knowledge. The characters are well drawn -- quirky and original -- and once again I find Douglas unusually skilled at writing about the female psyche. (He's also good on Jewish identity.) Finally, for a novel largely driven by language and character, The Vices had surprising narrative tension. I find that all too many contemporary novels start well -- the first few chapters are interesting and polished, but then it's downhill from there. By contrast, I found that The Vices got progressively better, and the last two-thirds were pretty much unputdownable.

The story is told through the eyes of an unnamed first-person narrator. Although I found him a little elusive, I came to appreciate his subtleties. (I like novels with unreliable narrators). The narrator tells the story of his closest friend, Oliver Vice -- his name and the book's title something of a triple entendre. Vice is a philosopher who has died young, presumably a suicide, though that's not entirely clear. In reconstructing the life story of his doomed friend, the narrator gets drawn into Vice's bizarrely fascinating family and its history. The ending delivers some clever and, at least for me, unexpected reversals.

The cover is a bit Gatsby-esque, and there are Gatsby elements to the story.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Helen on August 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Strangely enough - I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover - I bought this one for just that reason. Something about the combination of glam and mystery in that image of a faceless man in black tie on a cruise ship. I sort of wanted to be on board.

And the novel itself did not disappoint. In a way this was the perfect novel for me. My brother is a professor, and I always like hearing his stories about what it's like to live in a college community. There's a very particular kind of intimacy. It's kind of a big mishmash of working closely together plus idealism plus professional envy. On the surface, conversations are about ideas, but beneath that all sorts of things are swirling around. That's what The Vices gets at. I think that the narrator sounds at first like a placid and pretty normal guy, but eventually he finds himself in the grip of almost an obsession, and the reader gets drawn into the obsession as well. Plus there's a surprising ending with all these unexpected revelations about both the narrator and the main character. This might sound weird to say, but there's almost a gossipy quality to the novel. Not on the surface, and I know the author is a man - but he manages to combine history and secrecy in a way that is almost as irresistible as gossip. This is the perfect novel for beach reading IF you want a little bit of challenge mixed in with the sheer pleasure.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Bert on August 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
I picked up The Vices after having read a review of this author's first book and also an advance notice of this book in, I think, PW. I enjoyed it immensely. Some of the blurbs about the book describe it as a mystery, but that's partly misleading. Yes, it is a mystery, but a mystery about character, not crime. The main character is a somewhat eccentric, larger than life philosopher from an uncertain background, and the narrator is his friend and colleague who is fascinated by him. This setup reminded me of Nick Carraway and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, and The Vices has some of that same kind of interest. A lot of things feed into the story, including issues of class and marital infidelity and (above all) certain riddles and tragedies of 20th century European history. But The Vices is not at all an academic kind of book, even though the setting is the academy. Despite being erudite in certain ways, it is basically an immensely readable and enjoyable novel about friendship and privacy -- about how we almost always know less about each other than we think we do. That's a great theme, and the author sets us digging into it in a way that is really hard to stop, once you've started. I'm going to go back and read Douglas' first book, and then look forward to the next one.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen on August 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
In this beautifully and elegantly written novel, the author creates a world that as a reader you are helplessly and inexorably drawn into -- just as its narrator is. This world encompasses geography - rural Massachusetts, New York, London, Portugal, Iceland, Hungary and beyond - and, more centrally still, history, especially the brutalities of the previous century. It has old world snobbery and new world strivings, town and gown, Judaism and Catholicism, platonic love and kinky sex. But most of all, this world contains a series of philosophical ideas seamlessly woven into its subtle narrative and unforgettable characters. The novel raises and addresses questions about identity, friendship, authenticity, and the respective moral obligations of parents and children, as well as those between lovers. Perhaps most impressively, despite the essential and never-absent seriousness of these themes, the writing is delightfully playful, witty, clever, light - and never ponderous or difficult. Unlike so many contemporary novels, this one has staying power; it does not lose its way after a first few dazzling chapters but continues to engage, intrigue, and surprise until the very end. A tour de force.
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