cover image Three Lives CL

Three Lives CL

Louis Auchincloss. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21.95 (213pp) ISBN 978-0-395-65567-2

The lives of three New York WASPs come under the scrutiny of Auchincloss's ( False Gods ) meticulous eye and deep moral vision. He examines them in his usual accomplished--if somewhat chilly--prose, laced with French phrases, references to the Great Books and acerbic, sometimes precious dialogue. Two novellas are narrated by their male protagonists, and as their titles--``The Epicurean'' and ``The Stoic''--indicate, they illuminate extreme approaches to life. The man of leisure at the heart of ``The Epicurean'' uses his family money to cushion his escapades as an artistic dilettante in Paris and a game hunter in Africa. When WW II brings an abrupt end to this pattern, the denouement seems coy rather than ordained. Related by a woman, the middle tale, a miniature novel of manners called ``The Realist,'' has a more moderate outlook. Its story-within-a-story structure is contrived and proves frustrating. The most polished entry is the final tale, set in the early part of the 20th century, Auchincloss's favorite setting. ``The Stoic'' inhabits the world of finance, arranged intimacies and measured obligations to society. Harshly judgmental, he lives by his own rigid set of rules and resentments and is happy only when his hatred bears fruit. Reading about this rarefied milieu may make readers glad that they do not inhabit it. (Jan.)