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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.)
At Harvard in the early 1950s, three mismatched freshmen are thrown together as roommates--Sam, an aristocratic Yankee whose family is tarnished by scandal; Archie, an affable Army brat; and Henry, a Polish refugee from Brooklyn--in the story of their college years and their unique friendship. By the author of Wartime Lies. 25,000 first printing.
“Terrifically intelligent, moving, and entertaining.”
–The New York Sun
“With snappy dialogue [and] intelligent prose . . . Begley paints a memorable portrait of lasting friendship and of the strength required to step outside of the expectations that surround each of us.”
–Rocky Mountain News
At the beginning of the 1950s, three disparate young men are thrown together as roommates at Harvard College: Henry White, a Polish-Jewish refugee who survived World War II by hiding in Poland; Archibald P. Palmer III, an Army brat; and Sam Standish, ostensibly the scion of a fine New England family who has just learned that he was adopted at birth by parents he cannot respect. Each seeks to come to terms with his identity or to remake it altogether. Henry’s task is especially daunting: He is determined to live as an American, free of the shackles of his hideous past. But reinvention is a bargain with the devil, and over the years each will find that it comes at a high cost, challenging one’s honor and loyalty to parents, friends, and ultimately oneself.
“Absorbing . . . In full Henry James mode, Begley uses a lucid prose style to dispassionately eviscerate the upper classes even as he illuminates the true meaning of friendship.”
“The final moral crisis of Henry’s life [is] gorgeously evoked. . . . Begley’s analysis of class and anti-Semitism in America is often brilliant.”
–The Washington Post Book World
“A moving tale . . . [Begley’s] technique demands attention–and richly rewards it.”
–The New York Observer
“An elegant novel of enduring friendship.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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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