This novel purports to be a multi-generational portrait of the fortunes, foibles, loves, and infidelities of a an affluent, extended New York City family covering the years over half a century, from 1901 to 1951. It concentrates on five characters, three women and two men, representing two generations. Some have considered it one of Auchincloss's best books; I don't agree. Its main problem in my eyes is that none of the five main characters is sympathetic: all the major players paraded for our view are fundamentally unattractive, unengaging, or uninteresting. And a book devoid of characters that can engage our sympathies or our interest has a hard time being memorable. An additional shortcoming is that its mixed narrative strategy--omniscient (third-person) narration in some parts and first-person narration in the "Ida" sections--doesn't work very well here: the narrator Ida is much too verbally sophisticated a chronicler for the kind of character she is portrayed here as being; she writes, indeed, just like the polished, sophisticated, urbane Mr. Auchincloss himself, although that is not at all the kind of person she is supposed to be. Narrator Ida and character Ida, then, are jarringly and unconvincingly at odds. It is an important miscalculation and a significant failure.
On the plus side of the ledger, there is quite a powerful and effective showdown scene at the end of the novel between a cold, selfish, egotistical father who is senior partner of the investment banking firm he has built up, and his daughter and son-in-law, who have schemed and connived behind his back to bring about his retirement so that the ambitious son-in-law can take over the firm. There is a fine irony here in that the father, who as an ambitious young man himself squeezed out his own benefactor and the founder of the firm so that he could take it over, now finds the same thing being done to him. Even the least of Auchincloss's books are readable, and in the main enjoyable, but I don't find this one particularly successful. (There is a small historical blunder about the singer Galli-Curci that reveals Auchincloss didn't do his homework very thoroughly.)
Auchincloss would like to see himself as a writer in the genteel tradition of Henry James and Edith Wharton; he is in fact more in the genteel tradition of John P. Marquand. His main fault is his glib facility: writing is too easy for him; he was written too much; and too much of it, smoothly ushered in on its cushion of graceful, well-oiled prose, is pallid, thin, brittle, superficial; too much of it is engaging enough while you're reading it, but forgettable, leaving no lasting imprint. This fault, I regret to say, is in evidence here.