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Matters of Honorby Louis Begley
Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of Wartime Lies and About Schmidt, a luminous story of a brilliant but haunted outsider driven to transcend his past.
At Harvard in the early 1950s, three seemingly mismatched freshmen are thrown together: Sam, who fears that his fine New England name has been tarnished by his father’s drinking and his mother’s affairs; Archie, an affable army brat whose veneer of sophistication was acquired at an obscure Scottish boarding school; and Henry, fiercely intelligent but obstinate and unpolished, a refugee from Poland via a Brooklyn high school. As roommates they enter a world governed by arcane rules, where merit is everything except when trumped by pedigree and the inherited prerogatives of belonging. Each roommate’s accommodation to this world will require self-reinvention, none more audacious than Henry’s. Believing himself to be at last in the “land of the free,” he is determined to see himself on a level playing field, playing a game he can win. The ante is high—virtual renunciation of his past—but the jackpot seems even higher—long dreamed-of esteem, success, and arrival. Henry will stay in the game almost to the last hand, even after it becomes clear he must stake his loyalty to his parents and even to himself.
Reserved and observant, Sam recounts the trio’s Harvard years and the reckonings that follow: his own struggle with familial demons and his rise as a novelist; a coarsened Archie’s descent into drink; and, most attentively, Henry’s Faustian bargain and then his mysterious disappearance just as all his wildest ambitions seem to have been realized. Love and loyalty will impel Sam to discover the secret of Henry’s final reinvention.
An unforgettable portrait of friendship and a meditation on loyalty and honor—Louis Begley’s finest achievement.
"The author of About Schmidt and Shipwreck, Begley returns with an elegant novel of enduring friendship. Sam Standish, the adopted son of an alcoholic banker, arrives at Harvard in the early 1950s in genteel poverty, but with an unexpected trust fund to finance his education. His roommates are the incongruously named Archibald P. Palmer III, an army brat who goes by Archie, and Henry White, a rough-edged, fiercely smart Jewish refugee (born Henryk Weiss in Poland). Sam, who achieves a measure of success as a literary novelist, narrates their 50 years of friendship. His opaque romantic life suggests he may be gay, but the heart of this tragedy of manners is Sam's compelling assessment of class and social cachet in America, and of the ambient anti-Semitism that nearly drives Henry crazy, as he makes and abandons a fortune. Archie drops out of the narrative after he dies in a drunken car accident months after the Kennedy assassination, but Sam and Henry reconnect many years after Henry's disappearance for one last reunion of old friends. It's a story covered by everyone from Cheever to Roth, but Begley finds new and wonderful nuances within it." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From the author of WARTIME LIES and ABOUT SCHMIDT, the story of a brilliant, charismatic outsider and his struggle to gain admittance to the charmed circle of the American elite. In this sequel to his highly acclaimed WARTIME LIES Louis Begley gives us a story of imposture and of Jewish consciousness in the postwar twilight of genteel anti-Semitism.
About the Author
Louis Begley lives in New York City. His previous novels are Wartime Lies, The Man Who Was Late, As Max Saw It, About Schimdt, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, and Shipwreck.
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