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The Vices Paperback – August 16, 2011
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“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, InterviewMagazine.com
“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.
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But the worst part, and the reason it gets only one star, is the horrible, shoddy job done editing this book. It is riddled with mistakes and questionable usage, stuff that a moderately talented editor should have caught. One example: pickles are called "gurkens" twice. What? No such word. Simple spell-checking would have nabbed this. And the book is FULL of similar errors.
So don't waste your time on a this modest novel, unless you want to spend half your reading time editing.
The book may be a tad plot-lite for some: academic colleague of narrator disappears on Queen Mary 2 and narrator delves into his past to analyze why and stoke his smoldering obsession with the missing colleague. To be frank, I prefer what my NYU writing instructor Adam calls "classic story structure" with a central conflict that is more concrete, personal and specific like a dead body and finding out who done it. However, if you appreciate more plot-diffused tales with unsavory characters, this could be a 5-star read. It's a mix of Graham Greene, Don Delillo, Nicholson Baker and THE GREAT GATSBY.
I'd love to see this author parry with more classic story structure in a future novel. He's talented. (By the way, if you like intelligent, wickedly funny reads like this with a few more likable characters, two favorite foreign novels you might enjoy are The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise and The Elegance of the Hedgehog.)
Described as a "literary mystery" I'd say this book is more literary and less mystery, but a fun concoction for those who like this darker fare starring irredeemable characters. I hope the author keeps writing and experimenting with literary form. I'd read more of his books.