cover image Wise Men

Wise Men

Stuart Nadler. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-12648-9

Nadler begins his first novel, a sweeping epic of race and family in America, with an extraordinary account of lawyer Arthur Wise’s meteoric ascent in the post-WWII era through the eyes of his son, Hilly. Once an ambulance chaser, Arthur becomes one of the country’s richest and most famous lawyers thanks to a class action suit against the airline industry. In 1952, when Hilly is 17, Arthur buys a Cape Cod beach house tended to by an African-American caretaker, Lem Dawson, whose beautiful niece, Savannah, lives in a squalid shack nearby. As Arthur and Lem clash, Hilly falls for Savannah, complicating the situation. The first third of the novel forms a stunning portrait of a family struggling to learn the unstated rules of possessing wealth and power. But the subsequent sections, which find Hilly and Savannah reuniting in middle-age, and then again in the present day, take the drama in overly ambitious directions. The frantically plotted middle glosses over Hilly’s rationale for key decisions, and the final section builds to a twist that raises as many questions as it answers. Even at its most outlandishly plotted, however, the novel is held together by the profound connection Hilly and Savannah form without spending more than a few hours together in their lives. Nadler’s portrait of doomed romance, along with dissections of wealth and success worthy of John Cheever, make this a very exciting debut. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb. 19)