"Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow, it doesn't matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed. What difference has my life made to anyone. None that I can think of. None at all."
Begley was born Ludwik Begleiter in a region that at that was part of the Polish Republic, but is now part of the Ukraine. On the run from the Germans, his mother and he used forged identity papers that enabled them to pretend to be Polish Catholics. They were among a very small number of Jews who escaped the genocide that occurred in Poland. He came to America and graduated with honors from Harvard University. He published his first novel at age 58, so there is still hope for me yet.
I have heard Louis Begley compared favorably to Cheever, Updike, and Bellow. After reading this book, my first foray into the Begley canon, I understand those comparisons. The New York Times Book Review refers to "his exceptional literary intelligence."
I don't disagree; the pages brim with exceptional vocabulary and dialogue.
The Publishers Weekly said "A powerful story of a man's fall from grace."
Okay first of all if anything this is the story of a man's emergence. "Fall from Grace?"
, seriously, whoever the reviewer was obviously did not read the same book as I did. This quote is off the paperback edition so maybe this Publishers Weekly reviewer watched the movie instead of reading the book. I have not seen the movie, but I hear the plot is light years away from the book.
The other quote on the back of the paperback is "Comical, tough, unsparing; it is as if Louis Auchincloss had exchanged the kid gloves for brass knuckles...interesting and nervy."
Okay, a reviewer using Louis Auchincloss, who I have never read, but who was an East Coast writer who liked to write about lawyers, bankers and investors. I guess this reviewer liked the tie in with the fact that Schmidt is a retired lawyer only giving Begley more chops by bringing in the brass knuckles reference. Comical, well a little, tough ehhh not really, unsparing okay I'll give him that, the book is convincingly honest. Nervy? Implying ground breaking or scandalous? Uhhhh NO
Schmidt or Schmidtie as most of his associates call him is going through a mid-life crisis. His wife has died. His firm has negotiated him into early retirement. His daughter is getting married and he has this house he wants to give them, a little hacienda worth about $2million, and yet he is mystified to find his daughter and future son-in-law actually cold to the idea. He does not like his future son-in-law, Jon Riker, who happens to be Jewish, and yet because he doesn't like him Schmidtie is accused of being anti-semitic. I have to say given the fact that he gave Jon a leg up at his own firm, vaulting him into a partnership position I find it hard to understand the anti-semitic references. Sometimes people just don't like other people regardless of ethnicity or gender. Sometimes they just don't like them because they don't think they are right for their little girl.
Schmidtie develops a crush on this very young, Puerto Rican waitress and is stunned when his affections are reciprocated.
She is involved with another young man, but she has a history of involvement with older men. She is 20 and our erstwhile hero Schmidtie is a grey haired, but robust 60. Schmidtie's ability to perform sexually gives me hope for the future. He rises to the occasion as often as Carrie wants him to. The book may stray a bit into mythology at this point. Schmidtie has other problems, a house that may turn into a money pit, a firm that is trying to renegotiate his retirement settlement, a smelly, filthy homeless man who is stalking him, and a psychiatrist, the mother of Jon Riker, who is trying to psycho-analysis him and seduce him at the same time.
I really liked the book, despite the poorly chosen endorsements on the back cover. I liked Schmidt. I liked Begley's writing style. The book left me thinking about some of the great Cheever short stories I read last year. I will certainly read the second book [b:Schmidt Delivered|45382|Schmidt Delivered (Schmidt, #2)|Louis Begley|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320396050s/45382.jpg|605082].
I do have one last bone to pick with Begley which is the reason this book received a four star rating instead of a five star rating. Begley does not use quotation marks. It did take me a while to adjust, certainly required me to reread sections to determine if Schmidt said a comment or just thought it. In the back of the paperback edition they have an interview with Begley and he is asked about this missing punctuation. "It comes from my particular dislike of the way quotation marks look on a page. I think they look like little bugs."
Seriously Begley? Little bugs? You do need some time with a psychiatrist, Jewish or otherwise. Click to see my Schmidt Delivered Review