Monday, June 27, 2005

My first Auchincloss

I received this in '96 in a veritable crate of books kindly sent by The Poet; I believe he was hoping to simplify his life by divesting himself of a couple skids' worth of devoured titles--amongst others in the crate was Henry Adams' Education and Wells' The Research Magnificent. If the size of one's library serves as an indication, The Poet leads an extremely complicated existence at this time. When last I visited his library was immense, and he'd more than made up for any previous divestment. He'd previously sent along another Auchincloss called The Rector of Justin with a hearty recommendation (which I've yet to read). Being the stubborn sort I am I didn't get around to The Book Class until yesterday--what a treat!

Auchincloss picks up where Edith Wharton left off. He can, of course, be much less discreet than she was by necessity, and we get an insider's view of "society" New Yorkers conspiring behind the scenes that's as witty (and perhaps more elegantly written?) as anything penned by Gore Vidal. The narrator is an aging homosexual interior decorator whose comment that women had a lot of power before feminism raises business-threatening controversy. Hence, this book, which traces the backroom dealings of the members of his mother's book club as he argues his thesis [and proves his point--but while his mother's friends wield enormous power the limits on their freedom are nevertheless obvious]. The characters are sometimes hateful but never dull, the dialogue is sharp (Dot Parker sharp) and this is a quick read full of suprisingly subtle intricacies. I loved it. Were I too pick something about which to nit-pick, I'd lambast the too-facile plotline that any sickly young man left home from school with his mother and his mother's friends must inevitably become gay, but The Book Class was written a quarter century ago.

The Poet has yet to lead me astray. I shall track down more Auchinclosses in future--here's another novel by an obvious James admirer who's managed to cast off The Master's fussiness but not his lessons.