Portrait in Brownstone Paperback – Jun 1987
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
Before Ida's marriage to Derrick, he had been interested in Geraldine. He continued to pursue Geraldine even after he learned that she was just aboutto be engaged to marry Talbot Keating. Derrick was beholden to the family of Ida and Geraldine because he had been given a job by their uncle in his investment firm. Derrick had a premonition that his cause was hopeless. He felt that the family operated on the moral principles of children's books.
Ida's dying father tells her that she can be a leader and that he is afraid she will just slide into something. Derrick has secured the love and affection and respect of the whole family even though he lost his head over Geraldine. Ida is urged to consider his marriage proposal. Ida does love Derrick and she suits him. Later, Derrick is successful in business and feels free to drop the name of Ida's uncle from the title of the firm. This fills Ida with chagrin.
Eventually the Hartleys divide into rival pairs of mother and son, father and daughter. Dorcas resembles Derrick and Hugo has a razor-sharp wit. Dorcas marries a publisher first, and then a member of her father's firm. Her first husband tells her that her father is a tyrant.
Geraldine and her second husband, Freddy Brevoort, live in France for a decade. France is a haven for irregulars. After Freddy dies she stays with Ida and Derrick and later moves to an apartment subsidized by Derrick. In the first year of managing her money he is able to double the funds. Derrick is not romantic, he is calculating. In childhood Dorcas adores her father, but later becomes disillusioned and pities her mother. The interlocking family and business interests are described interestingly. Edith Wharton-like old New York is a cold and hard place.