Nadler begins his first novel, a sweeping epic of race and family in America, with an extraordinary account of lawyer Arthur Wise’s meteoric ascent in the post-WWII era through the eyes of his son, Hilly. Once an ambulance chaser, Arthur becomes one of the country’s richest and most famous lawyers thanks to a class action suit against the airline industry. In 1952, when Hilly is 17, Arthur buys a Cape Cod beach house tended to by an African-American caretaker, Lem Dawson, whose beautiful niece, Savannah, lives in a squalid shack nearby. As Arthur and Lem clash, Hilly falls for Savannah, complicating the situation. The first third of the novel forms a stunning portrait of a family struggling to learn the unstated rules of possessing wealth and power. But the subsequent sections, which find Hilly and Savannah reuniting in middle-age, and then again in the present day, take the drama in overly ambitious directions. The frantically plotted middle glosses over Hilly’s rationale for key decisions, and the final section builds to a twist that raises as many questions as it answers. Even at its most outlandishly plotted, however, the novel is held together by the profound connection Hilly and Savannah form without spending more than a few hours together in their lives. Nadler’s portrait of doomed romance, along with dissections of wealth and success worthy of John Cheever, make this a very exciting debut.
Money and race poison a father–son relationship in this frequently tense first novel that follows a story collection (The Book of Life, 2011). Arthur Wise goes from being an impoverished ambulance-chasing lawyer to a very rich man when, in 1952, he wins a class-action suit against an airline after a deadly crash. There is bad blood, though, between Arthur and his 17-year-old son, Hilly, the narrator. The teenager is already furious over being uprooted from his New Haven high school. Things only get worse at their new (second) home on Cape Cod. The live-in caretaker is a black man, Lem Dawson. Arthur, grandson of a Polish Jew but a racist bully, makes his life hell. When Hilly meets Lem's niece Savannah, he's smitten. She lives in a shack with her father, Charles, a no-good gambler and baseball player. Hilly tries to give them stuff his folks don't need; here Nadler does a fine job painting his well-intentioned naïveté. Hilly barely reaches first base with his beloved when their world collapses. The boy discovers Lem poking through his father's papers and, under intense cross-questioning, betrays him. Arthur goes ballistic and presses charges. After the novel's most successful and emotionally charged section, we fast-forward to 1972. Hilly is a reporter for a Boston newspaper, covering the race beat. He has a girlfriend, Jenny, but is still obsessed with the memory of Savannah. Jenny tells him, correctly, that he has a "rescue complex." In the final overstuffed section, it's 2008. This is a novel of character, persuasive in the telling, less so in retrospect but still impressive; Nadler is a born storyteller.
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