MANHATTAN MONOLOGUES

Louis Auchincloss, Author . Houghton Mifflin $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-618-15289-6

Auchincloss mines familiar ground—life in New York's financial and cultural top drawer during the 20th century and its accompanying upheavals—in his 57th book, a collection of 10 previously unpublished stories. Nearly every character is the scion of some great banking family or a partner in one of Manhattan's prestigious law firms, and an air of entitlement weighs heavily on each story, though this is balanced with equal parts humor and pathos. The protagonists' world of elite boarding schools and exclusive clubs is redolent of a not-so-distant past of privilege, but the characters remain endearingly human in their foibles and follies. In "Harry's Brother," awkward Charles Pierce Jr. spends his entire life in the shadow of his roguish, popular younger sibling; a woman's efforts to find a suitable bride for her charming but indolent son backfire in "The Marriage Broker." A longing for romantic love shapes much of the book, as in "The Heiress," the reminiscence of a spirited woman drawn to a suitor "different and more interesting" than the "great man of the future" her father demanded that she marry. By setting these stories against the backdrop of a century, the author traces the evolution of Gotham's upper classes, suggesting continuity even as traditional wealth slowly gives way to the twin specters of globalization and new money. Auchincloss favors stylized writing, shot through with dense, sinewy passages, and even when the dialogue leans in the direction of the archaic, he makes it seem effortless and true. Once again, he lives up to his reputation as one of our great men of letters. (July 10)

Reviewed on: 06/24/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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