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Format: Hardcover

Condition: Very Good*

*Best Available: (missing dust jacket)

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A delightful read

This is one of Auchincloss's best books: a splendid collection of twelve short stories, in my opinion the finest of his several collections of stories, and from his prime period. Here all the stories are interconnected by being about members of the large, prestigious Wall Street law firm of Tower, Tilney and Webb. Auchincloss, himself once a Manhattan lawyer, knows whereof he writes and creates a memorable world of diverse, colorful characters and juicy predicaments: the autocratic senior partner's plot to drive out of the firm a cynical, hard-drinking old loose cannon of a partner whom he detests; the scheme of a jealous young associate, ambitious for a partnership, to discredit a rival; the plight of an ineffectual, despised partner who owes his position in the firm to the fact that his uncle was its founder; a bachelor partner whose secret obsession is his tell-all diary, which grows like a monstrous plant to more than fifty volumes, and which he is afraid to let anyone read; a senior secretary who venerates the firm's dead founder and its past, and whose plans for her retirement party include telling off its present management; a maverick young Irish associate of dubious background, brought in "from outside" as a specialist and made to feel that he is "not one of us," who commences to romance the senior partner's daughter; an aged partner, another who owes his place to family connections instead of ability, who lives in perpetual dread of the mistake he knows he will eventually make that will prove his undoing; an irascible partner who is the firm's czar of litigation, pursuing a particularly convoluted and litigious divorce case; a humorless young blueblooded associate fighting a losing battle to preserve his aristocratic values when faced with a rich, sleazy Armenian client; the unwanted middle-aged wife of a partner, himself a heel who decides to dump her, and her unplanned and unexpected revenge; the battle between two society dowagers (one aided by her lawyer) for social supremacy in a Maine harbor resort; and finally, the senior partner at 58 contemplating an offer to abandon the law and become president of his alma mater, a small northeastern college. By turns witty, shrewd, humorous (a feature not always conspicuous in Auchincloss's work), characterized by the deft, telling phrase and incisive repartee, the book is a sharply observed, well-written tour de force, the right length, and compulsively readable. I first read it when it came out in 1963, have just re-read it, and find that it holds up quite well. Auchincloss would like to see himself as a writer in the genteel tradition of Henry James and Edith Wharton; he is in fact more in the genteel tradition of John P. Marquand. His main fault is his glib facility: writing is too easy for him; he was written too much; and too much of it, smoothly ushered in on its cushion of graceful, well-oiled prose, is pallid, thin, brittle, superficial; too much of it is engaging enough w
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