About Schmidt

by Louis Begley

Paperback, 1996





New York : Ballantine Books, 1997, c1996.


Old-school lawyer Albert Schmidt has spent years climbing the ladder of success. But now, at what should be the pinnacle of his career, he is widowed, forcibly retired and harbors mixed feelings about his daughter's impending marriage. Suddenly, a seductive young woman asks Smitty what he wants.

Media reviews

Some of Western literature's most resonant works, including ''King Lear'' and Henry James's novel ''The Spoils of Poynton,'' concern the transfer of property from one generation to the next. The issues raised by inheritance -- the limits to love between parents and children, the fading but still formidable power of the parents, the almost inevitable ingratitude of the children as they pursue their own goals, the new alliances and potential betrayals involved in any marriage -- touch all of us, whether we have a kingdom or splendid British country house to pass on or only some precious, albeit worthless, family tchotchkes. In Louis Begley's fine new novel, ''About Schmidt,'' the property at issue is a house in the Hamptons, and although most readers might salivate at the prospect of owning such a house, inherited by Albert Schmidt from his wife's maiden aunt, his daughter -- wouldn't you know? -- would rather spend her weekends upstate, and her fiance worries about the upkeep. Schmidt is a buttoned-up, emotionally deprived man who has recently lost his wife, Mary, on whom he depended for his social life.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Amzzz
Retirement and growing old are shown to be not as easy as they may seem, as Schmidt deals with the death of his wife, new relationships, isolation, thinking about the past, his own prejudices and the impending marriage of his daughter. This book didn't appeal to me at all at the beginning, but it grew on me towards the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member William345
The setting here is very, one might say supremely, bourgeois. Albert Schmidt, newly widowed, recently retired from a cutthroat Manhattan law firm, is fully fitted out with all the appurtenances of great material success. The circles in which he moves are peopled by the very rich and often famous. Six months after his wife's death his daughter, Charlotte, announces her engagement to Jon Riker. Riker, a former mentee, is disliked by Schmidt for numerous reasons. One reason being that he's a Jew. More objectionable to Schmidt, however, is that Riker has knowingly undermined him at the firm where he no longer works. Schmidt has lost his beloved wife, Mary, and now he is losing his daughter to a grasping young man devoid of the romantic sensibilities that he most cherishes. Schmidt feels himself to be a radical truth teller, yet much of his "commentary" he must repress if he is not to alienate those around him. One wonders how he has done it. One wonders how he has managed to be successful. Interpersonal relationships are so key to the high-brow kind of law he once practiced, yet they also annoy him terribly. The answer of course is Mary. Often we hear Schmidt say something like "Mary would have managed it so well." And our sense is of his wife coming along behind him setting matters to rights. There are improbable sex scenes--two sixty-plus men with 20 year old girlfriends--yet somehow Begley carries them off. Certainly, the fact that both men are very rich makes the liaisons more plausible than they would be otherwise. I generally abhor all descriptions of coitus in print. Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater is to my mind full of such repulsive writing. Begley's method however is defter and almost without vulgarity. I haven't quite figured out how he does it. I suppose one could say that Begley writes about territory already covered by John Updike and Philip Roth. Yet Begley's style is distinctive, nothing like the other two writers, and his milieu is far more genteel. I absolutely adore this novel. It's my favorite of all the Begley novels I've read so far, including Wartime Lies, which is saying a lot.… (more)



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