`Lapham' Returns, Banker Douses Fires, Superheroes Soar: Books
March 13 (Bloomberg) -- Harry March is a cantankerous writer. He lives on his own island in the Hamptons, where his only companions are a West Highland terrier and a stone statue of his ex-wife reading the New York Times.
Splendid isolation suits the hero of Roger Rosenblatt's novel, ``Lapham Rising'' (HarperCollins, 243 pages, $23.95). So naturally the author shatters Harry's peace on page one.
``Bang bang bang bang bang,'' the book begins.
A social-climbing playboy named Lapham is building a McMansion just across the water. March goes mad and begins to think his dog, Hector, is talking to him. ``I'll pray for you,'' says Hector at one point.
Rosenblatt, a long-time essayist for Time magazine, has written 10 books of essays and nonfiction and penned four off- Broadway plays. ``Lapham Rising,'' his debut novel, borrows from William Dean Howells's 1885 novel, ``The Rise of Silas Lapham,'' about a Vermont paint tycoon who masquerades as a Boston Brahmin.
This updated version satirizes the Hamptons, the New York summer retreat for celebrities and executives. Its little towns have ``the seductive apathy of a debutante, but none of the appealing cruelty,'' Harry grumbles. Chitchat at dinner parties turns on ``the best Pilates class on the planet,'' he sneers.
``Lapham Rising'' doesn't amount to more than the sum of such deliciously caustic observations. Nor is it meant to. So sit back and enjoy the ride.
Lapham's house is a castle. It includes a moat, a movie theater and a ``Tilles Blowhard,'' a jet engine-powered air conditioner that sounds ``like a lion's roar amplified over a vast public-address system.''
March plans to lay siege to this edifice of ego with a huge homemade catapult dubbed the ``Da Vinci.'' He fails, though the book is all the funnier for it. This is a must-read for seasonal renters and year-round residents alike.
Like Lapham, Bill Schoenberg lives in a ``gilded shack in the boondocks.'' His is a $3.3 million turreted house in the unfashionable Hudson River village of Harristown, New York, the setting for Nicholas Weinstock's novel, ``The Golden Hour'' (Morrow, 275 pages, $24.95).
Schoenberg is 46 and overweight. After 19 years of marriage and a two-decade run as an investment banker on Wall Street, he has ditched his job, left his South African interior-decorator wife, vacated their 11-room Manhattan penthouse and moved upstate with his collection of vintage wine. Why? Weinstock holds back that secret and keeps you reading.
In Harristown, Schoenberg discovers an endearingly ``hokey civilization.'' He also finds a new sense of purpose, as well as camaraderie, when he joins the ragtag volunteer fire department.
Weinstock, who once served as a fireman, ably describes the routine bravery of those who rush into burning houses. By the finale, Schoenberg has gained a self-esteem that means more to him than the adulation he won as a banker nicknamed ``The Bull.''
New York fiction these days is stocked with characters reassessing their lives. Consider Nathaniel, the 28-year-old creator of a comic book called ``Passivityman'' in Deborah Eisenberg's fifth collection of short stories, ``Twilight of the Superheroes'' (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 240 pages, $23).
Before Sept. 11, 2001, the view from Nathaniel's 31st-floor Manhattan loft included the World Trade Center and was ``like looking down over the rim into a gigantic glass of champagne.'' After the terrorist attacks, the city became an ``open wound.'' Nathaniel realizes that his hip ``Passivityman'' isn't quite the hero Americans need post-9/11 and abandons the comic.
Eisenberg introduces us to dozens of such thoughtful people. We meet stoic Jewish immigrants living in the Midwest, a lonely divorcee traveling through Italy and a widowed art-gallery owner, among others. All cope with real problems: aging, unstable family members and a loss of confidence.
Throughout these six masterful stories Eisenberg proves that you don't necessarily need a novel to describe an entire life. Sometimes, 35 pages will do.