cover image The Man Who Was Late

The Man Who Was Late

Louis Begley. Knopf Publishing Group, $21 (243pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41511-4

As in his prizewinning first novel, Wartime Lies , Begley has written an ironic narrative from an emotionally displaced person's distinctive point of view. The protagonist here is a middle-aged international investment banker with a Wall Street firm. Despite his Harvard education and sophisticated social skills, Ben cannot surmount a sense of loss and dislocation, the result of his background as a post-WW II emigre from Central Europe (he deliberately distanced himself from his parents and his Jewish heritage). Masking his existential angst with a luxurious lifestyle, Ben has survived a divorce and the loss of beloved stepdaughters, and is determined never to endure such pain again. When his beautiful French lover destroys her marriage and risks everything by declaring her love for him, Ben subconsciously torpedoes their future together. Finally he understands that his ingrained caution, symptomatic of his fear that happiness is ephemeral, has ruined his life. Begley's sophisticated prose is studded with highbrow references to authors, filmmakers and artists, and contains solid descriptions of the world of international commerce in New York, France, Japan and Brazil. In writing of the upper class, Begley invites comparisons with Louis Auchincloss; his style is similarly urbane and elegant, his eye equally unsparing. Despite his ``barren, dark and desperate'' protagonist's failings, Begley succeeds in making him a poignant figure. BOMC and QPB alternates. (Jan.)