Her Infinite Variety

Louis Auchincloss, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-618-02191-8
Over the course of his long career, Auchincloss (The Education of Oscar Fairfax, etc.) has always excelled in portraying women of the upper class. In the past, his female characters were often anachronistic members of a society whose strict rules of conduct and social acceptance were ceasing to matter. Here he transcends himself with an astute and witty novel about a woman who disdains the old values of money and class in favor of a feminine meritocracy in the world of business. As becomes abundantly clear in her brilliant rise to power, however, Clara Longcope Hoyt Tyler is skilled at using her beauty to open doors and secure advancement. The bright, strong-willed, refreshingly spirited daughter of a Yale professor and a domineering, socially obsessed mother, Vassar undergrad Clara almost makes a disastrous marriage to a man whose career would limit her opportunities. Practicality wins out; instead, she marries wealthy, complacent Trevor Hoyt, whose New York banking family soon stifles her career plans. Caught in an affair while Trevor is in Europe during WWII (and indulging in his own extramarital liaisons), Clara spurns his forgiveness, his money and his social position to strike out on her own. As an editor on a chic fashion magazine, she becomes adept at playing a man's game of ruthless opportunism and frank ambition while employing her beauty to snare the devotion of media mogul Eric Tyler, who eventually installs her as vice-president of Tyler Publications. When their marriage and her micromanaging incur the animosity of Tyler's son and heir, cynical and increasingly belligerent Clara involves the family in a power struggle, from which she emerges victorious. Auchincloss's attitude toward his heroine is interesting. Initially, he seems empathetic, demonstrating that during the 1940s and '50s, smart, determined yet idealistic women like Clara were forced to use feminine wiles to fulfill their potential. But after Clara asks herself again and again if she is a monster, acknowledging her cold heart and inability to love (she treats even her daughter with cool distance), one senses that the author has come to dislike his creation and to despise her moral failings. In any case, his unsparing portrait of an ambitious woman has vitality and credibility, and it voices truths with elegant precision. Agent, Andrew Pope. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/07/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 271 pages - 978-0-7838-9341-9
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-618-22488-3
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-547-75634-9
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