Jacob's Reviews > The Atonement and Other Stories

The Atonement and Other Stories by Louis Auchincloss
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Feb 09, 12

bookshelves: i-own, short-fiction, auchincloss-and-austen, 2010-2011
Read from October 17 to 28, 2010

October 2010

Louis Auchincloss must be spinning in his elegant marble mausoleum. It's bad enough that I bought his last book at a clearance sale--for cheap, at a bargain price; this one I got from a book-trading website (Paperbackswap) for free. Free! Like a handout! Like what a poor person gets! Have I no shame?

Ok, so it's not that bad; no lawyers have besieged my library yet. Still, there's a strange sense of voyeurism that comes with reading the works of Louis Auchincloss--as if, by reading about "the moral life of America's moneyed class," and all those judges and lawyers, bankers and investors, patricians and matriarchs who occupy it, I'm looking through windows into rooms ordinarily forbidden to common folk like me. It's a bit thrilling, in a way, to discover that Auchincloss's people are, well, human--concerned with enormous sums of money, delicate reputations and bloodlines, and power, but human nonetheless.

In this collection, as with others, Auchincloss lays bare the sins and accomplishments of his characters, and lets them try to justify, and perhaps atone for, both. In the title story, a hotshot young investment banker wrestles with guilt as he and his partner cheat on the stock market, only to have his attempts at atonement preempted. In "Ars Gratia Artis," a former railroad tycoon turns to art collecting, but his newfound expensive hobby alarms his family (and heirs). A veteran stage actress looks back on a role that nearly made her famous in "Lear's Shadow," while a former lawyer's wife reflects on "The Last Great Divorce" that saw her second husband retreat from the world of law. And others--would-be Supreme Court Justices, dutiful sisters, fallen widows, old bachelors, and more--find themselves defending, and justifying, the empires they created (and abandoned), the roles they played, and they scandals they caused.

Sound dull? Perhaps it is, but charmingly so. Auchincloss is a fine writer; even if some of the characters and themes seem to blend together, after a while, and the stories begin to feel a bit repetitive (probably a sign that I should try some of his novels instead), every sentence of every story feels perfectly crafted. Overall, this is a fine collection, and I plan to read more of his work--which should be easy to do, since Auchincloss wrote over sixty books. And, since most reviews I've read bring up the comparison, I suppose I should try out Henry James and Edith Wharton, too. Any recommendations?

More by Auchincloss
The Young Apollo and Other Stories
Manhattan Monologues
The Friend of Women and Other Stories
The Anniversary and Other Stories
Three Lives
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Jacob Any title you'd recommend first?


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Not to pop in, but if you're thinking James, start with The Ambassadors. Just sayin'.


message 3: by William1 (new)

William1 Can any of you read late James? Golden Bowl, etc., and honestly say you derive pleasure from doing so? Please sound off. Thank you.


Jacob KUBOA/Pocketful of Scoundrel wrote: "Not to pop in, but if you're thinking James, start with The Ambassadors. Just sayin'."

Are you kidding? Pop in whenever you want! I'd probably be mad to ignore a rec from you.


message 5: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook Reply to William: The Ambassadors is purty wonderful. I always see the young (at 40) Jeanne Moreau as Mme de Vionnet. My copy is coming apart fr underlinings like, "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to." Etc. For someone starting James, I recommend his short stories, eg, The Aspern Papers....


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