In his 43rd book, Auchincloss again picks up where Wharton and James left off, with another stylish, tasteful novel of manners focusing on the moneyed Establishment. The daughter of a financier ruined in the Depression, Natica Chauncey is hungry for the social status her family has lost. She turns entrapping ``situations'' to her advantage, three times marrying men she uses for self-advancement and refusing the idle female existence prescribed by society. Auchincloss's hallmark skills are evident here: meticulous prose, colorful depictions of idiosyncratic personalities, intelligent treatment of women's changing roles and descriptions of subtle intricacies of social climbing. But his characters' very lack of depth robs them of the reader's sympathy. Natica's manipulations may be ``the needed armor of a brilliant woman in a man's world'' but, combined with her emotional thinness, they render her rather unappealing. The most profoundly drawn character, headmaster Rufus Lockwood, owes much of his vivid personality to literary predecessor Frank Prescott of The Rector of Justin. Still, Auchincloss's portrayal of the bonds and battles between the sexes and the ethics of loyalty and responsibility result in an acute study in human motivation. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1990 Release date: 07/01/1990 Genre: Fiction
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