cover image Matters of Honor

Matters of Honor

Louis Begley, . . Knopf, $24.95 (307pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26525-8

The author of About Schmidt and Shipwreck , Begley returns with an elegant novel of enduring friendship. Sam Standish, the adopted son of an alcoholic banker, arrives at Harvard in the early 1950s in genteel poverty, but with an unexpected trust fund to finance his education. His roommates are the incongruously named Archibald P. Palmer III, an army brat who goes by Archie, and Henry White, a rough-edged, fiercely smart Jewish refugee (born Henryk Weiss in Poland). Sam, who achieves a measure of success as a literary novelist, narrates their 50 years of friendship. His opaque romantic life suggests he may be gay, but the heart of this tragedy of manners is Sam's compelling assessment of class and social cachet in America, and of the ambient anti-Semitism that nearly drives Henry crazy, as he makes and abandons a fortune. Archie drops out of the narrative after he dies in a drunken car accident months after the Kennedy assassination, but Sam and Henry reconnect many years after Henry's disappearance for one last reunion of old friends. It's a story covered by everyone from Cheever to Roth, but Begley finds new and wonderful nuances within it. (Jan. 29)