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Schmidt Steps Backby Louis Begley
Synopses & Reviews
When we last saw Albert Schmidt Esq. (“Schmidtie” to all near and dear), he had been expelled from paradise: his love Carrie, the Puerto Rican waitress forty years his junior, had taken up with a blond giant nearer her age and possibly the father of her baby—assuming it isn’t Schmidt. Meanwhile, his only confirmed child, Charlotte, had proposed a truce in their perennially strained relations, which Schmidt accepted, despite its obliging him to resume dealings with her repulsive husband and her mother-in-law-cum-psychiatrist, whose life’s work has been turning Charlotte decisively against Schmidt.
The curtain rises on Schmidt Steps Back some thirteen years later: New Year’s Eve 2008, the dawn of the age of Obama. Schmidt’s affection for the young president-elect is boundless, and as he imagines a better day for his country, he dares to hope there’s one for him too. It so happens Schmidtie is readying his Hamptons house for the visit of a lady from Paris: the irresistible Alice Verplanck, widow of his former law partner and surely a more appropriate prospect for a man now seventy-eight. But there’s a history, and it’s complicated. In fact, Schmidt hasn’t seen Alice since the summer of 1995, when he behaved like a brute upon discovering a betrayal of sorts and pronounced her unworthy of his unstinting love and commitment. Alice is finally ready to forgive him, but she still doubts that Schmidtie can ever be content. She demands that he think long and hard about their past, and while he’s at it Schmidtie finds himself also reviewing the reversals and tragedies that have brought him to an unimagined isolation and loneliness. With no family he can claim but Carrie, now married and expecting a second child, and only two real friends left—his college roommate Gil Blackman and the irrepressible billionaire Mike Mansour—Schmidt sees in Alice’s impending visit his last chance, before the sun sets on the Hamptons, for a life that is more than merely staying alive.
At once darkly funny and deeply poignant, Schmidt Steps Back is the most emotionally nuanced installment of the drama that began with the acclaimed About Schmidt. Here is Louis Begley’s finest novel yet.
“Tragic and redemptive . . . Updike had Rabbit, Roth has Zuckerman, Richard Ford has Bascombe and Begley has Schmidt. . . . [Schmidt Steps Back] is the most ambitious novel [yet] in the Schmidt cycle.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Full of dark humor, compassion, and heart, Schmidt Steps Back is the most romantic installment yet of the drama that began with the acclaimed About Schmidt. Now seventy-eight, and just as passionate, sharp, and endearingly prickly as ever, Albert Schmidt faces a life alone, with only the crumbs of grandfatherly status and a less-than-demanding position at an international organization to sustain him. His only hope is Alice Verplanck, the French widow of a former partner, as elusive as she is beautiful. Whether his rusty seduction skills can lure her from Paris to the Hamptons won’t be known, though, until Schmidt endures one more ordeal by fire. Hilarious, engrossing, and deeply poignant, Schmidt Steps Back is Louis Begley’s finest novel yet.
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Praise for Schmidt Steps Back
“Engaging . . . Begley gets as close to Schmidt as a diarist, inhabiting this man who has been seasoned by a long life.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Begley gets inside Schmidt’s fertile WASP brain . . . with subtlety, intelligence, and wit.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The novel grows in Begley’s excellent intricacy . . . to the level of art rather than manners. . . . One cannot read one of the Schmidt novels without laughing.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Thoroughly absorbing . . . [a] cause for celebration.”—Salon
“[A] superb tragicomedy . . . seductive, subversive, and commanding.”—Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Louis Begley lives in New York City. His previous novels are About Schmidt, As Max Saw It, The Man Who Was Late, Matters of Honor, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, Shipwreck, and Wartime Lies.
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