From the author of Wartime Lies and About Schmidt, an irresistibly entertaining novel about a man struggling to understand his friends' seemingly charmed marriage, which may have been doomed from the start.
In the unforgiving class system of the 1950s, Lucy de Bourgh, daughter of one of Rhode Island's first families and beneficiary of an ample trust fund, was married to Thomas Snow, son of a Newport garage owner and his bookkeeper wife. It hardly mattered that Thomas was a graduate of Harvard Business School, or that he went to work for a great Wall Street firm and succeeded beyond expectations. In Lucy's eyes, he remained irremediably a "townie." Decades later, a chance meeting brings Lucy together with Philip, our narrator. They'd known each other earlier, and he remembers her as a ravishing, funny, ready-for-anything hellion with a well-earned reputation for generosity with sexual favors. He also remembers Thomas, killed in a freak accident years after his and Lucy's divorce, and is shocked to hear Lucy refer to Thomas insistently as "that monster." How is he to reconcile that unexpected and overflowing reservoir of bitterness and resentments with his own memories? Almost against his will, Philip sets out on a quest that soon becomes an obsession to discover who exactly these friends were whom he had understood so incompletely, and what happened in their marriage. Through Philip's patient probing, a brilliant portrait emerges of Begley's heroine: infinitely complex, irresistible as well as insufferable, capable of extremes of arrogance and submission, and driven by sexual appetites she cannot control. Lucy de Bourgh is without doubt one of Begley's strongest and most outrageous creations.
About the Author
Born in Poland in 1933, Louis Begley is the author of many novels, including Wartime Lies, About Schmidt and Shipwreck. His wife of thirty years, biographer Anka Muhlstein is the author of La Salle: Explorer of the North American Frontier and, most recently, A Taste for Freedom: The Life of Astolphe de Custine. They live in New York.
"This delicious, dazzling novel about the rise and fall of a great American debutante kept me up all night. Begley knows everything about the secret lives of the American aristocracy, and he tells all." —Susan Cheever
"Absorbing ... [Begley] tells this tale with all the archness — and yearning — of a voyeur looking in ... His evocations of glistening mahogany in New York’s club rooms, of summering in the Hamptons, of oysters and whiting at the Paris Savoy have the clear ring of truth. He has observed the relevant mannerisms, and he garnishes his scenes with all the glee of a name-dropping arriviste ... Begley proves he is a master dissector of the American character. Among contemporary novelists, he may be the wryest, most devastating critic of class in American society ... Begley delivers a literary stiletto to what Tiffany or Crate & Barrel might blithely call 'the Gatsby set' ... Read it and weep." —Marie Arana, The Washington Post
"[E]ngrossing ... Begley gives us a chance to see into two different, often obscured worlds. One is the most private recesses of another couple’s marriage. The other is high-WASP society — though most people don’t usually even know where that particular unmarked door is, let alone get a chance to have it quietly shut in their faces ... The pleasures of this novel reside not so much in where the 'truth' lies as in its context. The world of the highly entitled at play and at work — seen traveling the globe over the decades, installing themselves in European hotels and joining exclusive men’s clubs and marrying into families made up of 'very much our kind of people' — remains irresistible." —Meg Wolitzer, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] consummately constructed monument to human imperfection." —San Francisco Chronicle
"In this compact, voyeuristic novel, Begley creates his latest larger-than-life character in the beguiling but sharp-tongued socialite Lucy De Bourgh ... Begley’s effortless storytelling will have readers...fascinated by Lucy and Phillips’s complex, tangled relationship." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A fiendishly clever, Fitzgeraldesque tale about marriage, friendship, gossip, and self-justification ... Begley, marvelously droll and possessed of a rapier wit, revels in his mercurial characters, intricate psychological puzzles, unreliable memories, counterintuitive class divisions, and all the mysteries and miseries of lust and love."—Booklist
"Sharply observed and subtly nuanced ... It could pass as a novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s later decades, if Fitzgerald had lived so long."—Kirkus Reviews