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The Emperor of Ocean Parkby Stephen L. Carter
Synopses & Reviews
An extraordinary fiction debut: a large, stirring novel of suspense that is, at the same time, a work of brilliantly astute social observation. The Emperor of Ocean Park is set in two privileged worlds: the upper crust African American society of the eastern seaboard—old families who summer on Marthas Vineyard—and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school. It tells the story of a complex family with a single, seductive link to the shadowlands of crime.
The Emperor of the title, Judge Oliver Garland, has just died, suddenly. A brilliant legal mind, conservative and famously controversial, Judge Garland made more enemies than friends. Many years before, hed earned a judges highest prize: a Supreme Court nomination. But in a scene of bitter humiliation, televised across the country, his nomination collapsed in scandal. The humbling defeat became a private agony, one from which he never recovered.
But now the Judges death raises even more questions—and it seems to be leading to a second, even more terrible scandal. Could Oliver Garland have been murdered? He has left a strange message for his son Talcott, a professor of law at a great university, entrusting him with “the arrangements”—a mysterious puzzle that only Tal can unlock, and only by unearthing the ambiguities of his fathers past. When another man is found dead, and then another, Talcott—wry, straight-arrow, almost too self-aware to be a man of action—must risk his career, his marriage, and even his life, following the clues his father left him.
Intricate, superbly written, often scathingly funny, The Emperor of Ocean Park is a triumphant work of fiction, packed with character and incident—a brilliantly crafted tapestry of ambition, family secrets, murder, integrity tested, and justice gone terribly wrong.
"It's an elephant ? not just its size, but its strange collection of parts: It's a light thriller for the beach; a wicked satire of academic politics; a stinging exposé of the judicial confirmation process; a trenchant analysis of racial progress in America....Carter has violated the Jim Crow laws of popular fiction (No academics allowed) and won everybody over." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
"To be fair, there's some nice writing here, though the prose tends toward the melodramatic. But the author's problem isn't that he can't write. It's that he can't tell a story. Emperor is muddy, messy, cluttered, and chockablock with false clues and meaningless details. As for the hype: You don't believe everything you hear, do you?" Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"Fascinating....[A] suspenseful tale of ambition, revenge, and the power of familial obligations....An elegantly nuanced novel, with finely drawn characters, a challenging plot, and perfect pacing." Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred review)
"[W]hile The Emperor of Ocean Park...has many irritating flaws, in the end, it's not surprising why it's gotten so much hype. It's a Grisham-like legal thriller written by a star academic and public intellectual. Even more appealing, as Carter explains, this legal thriller takes place in a 'larger slice of financially comfortable African America than most white Americans probably think exists outside the sports and entertainment world.'...That doesn't necessarily mean that Carter has anything astonishing to say about the black elite. The superficial, glossy ways of Carter's black bourgeoisie...isn't anything we don't already know about rich people, whatever their color. But Carter's portrayal of the interior life of black movers and shakers...does generate a sense of freshness, of seeing something new. Carter's social novel, the one lurking in the background of The Emperor of Ocean Park and popping up between the car chases, is what makes the pages turn....It's possible that Stephen Carter tried too hard trying to squeeze in all his pet subjects and devise a smart, intricate thriller. It's too bad. The secrets of a dead, rich, powerful black conservative, embroiled in D.C. politics and harrowed by family tragedy, make for a story that's compelling enough on its own." Suzy Hansen, Salon.com
"A thrilling read, driven by a powerful cocktail of plot and character." Robert McCrum, The Observer (London)
"The book's subject, an often-ignored segment of American society, is a welcome departure. However, the author is prone to lectures on race relations and the state of academe, and the story suffers from his tin ear for dialogue and portentous tone." Book Magazine
"A novel of great originality and insight: a saga of an African-American family of affluence and privilege forced to reckon with their misadventures and crimes. But Carter's novel also explores, perhaps for the first time in recent memory, a less familiar vision of the black experience in America: one of pride and optimism, and possibility. I've never read a book quite like it, and I enjoyed it very much indeed." Gay Talese
"Those who enjoy a leisurely pace to their suspense and subscribe to Carter's philosophy of conservatism will enjoy it. The rest will stick with Grisham, Martini, and Margolin." Library Journal
"I think it's not much of an exaggeration to suggest that in Stephen Carter the black upper class has found its Dreiser....There are some wonderful set pieces....It is at its center a book about the pleasures and miseries of family life, and the scenes in Talcott's house, the pauses and silences and evasions and eruptions when one spouse is having an affair and the other isn't, are very well done..." Ward Just, The New York Times Book Review
"How interesting is the book's exploration of black America's elite? Ceaselessly. And how compelling are the characters? Here, Carter steps on a land mine, for Garland...is a dud....[I]n a novel this ambitious, great characters have to be more than just the sum of their ideas. Grade: B-" Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly
"With great skill, Carter builds toward a series of climaxes that explode over the final 150 pages. Few readers will refrain from racing excitedly through them. A melodrama with brains and heart to match its killer plot....Irresistible." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[F]irst-rate....This thriller, which touches electrically on our sexual, racial and religious anxieties, will be the talk of the political in-crowd this summer." Publishers Weekly
Set in the privileged world of New York-Washington-Martha's Vineyard upper-crust African-American society and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school, Carter tells the story of a complex family with a single seductive and dangerous link to the shadow lands of crime.
About the Author
Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He is the author of seven acclaimed nonfiction books, including The Culture of Disbelief and Civility. He lives with his wife and children near New Haven, Connecticut.
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