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Schmidt Delivered by Louis Begley
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Schmidt Delivered

by Louis Begley

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Author Begley was a lawyer for a large New York firm before retiring, I believe, at sixty or so. He is a superb writer. This is the second volume of what is so far a trilogy. I’ve yet to read the third volume, just out, called Schmidt Steps Back.

When we last saw Schmidt at the end of About Schmidt he had miraculously secured the favors of a 25 year old beauty for himself (he's in his early sixties), had become estranged from his wacky daughter who has a tendency to make decisions that go against her own self interest, and had been forced from his beloved law firm by Jon Riker, his protege, who after becoming a partner at Schmidt's recommendation, turns against him and squeezes him out before marrying the wacky daughter.

Now we board the Schadenfreude Express. For Jon Riker, who backstabbed Schmidt in volume one, has fucked himself royally and lost all credibility at the start of the current volume. It’s complicated, but apparently Riker gave documents that were under court seal to the opposing counsel whom he had been screwing. But opposing counsel, as it turns out, then screws him when she uses those same documents to prepare submissions to the court. There can be no doubt that her submissions were based upon the sealed documents. The shit hits the fan. Jon has compromised the case of a major client. He Is fired from the firm.

Schmidt tries to resist the Schadenfreude Express, and largely does so, to his credit. Schmidt’s daughter, Charlotte, Jon’s wife, leaves the beleagured Jon now for a man in her office who is separated from his wife. (They both do PR for tobacco companies.) Charlotte takes the jitney out to the Hamptons to ask Schmidt for money —-not a loan but an outright gift — so that she and her new man can start up their own firm. The new man will not invest a cent himself, all his funds will go to supporting his divorced wife and family. But no sooner does Charlotte make this request of Schmidt, then her lover and future partner returns to his wife for the sake of the children. (Always a mistake.) This is the ultimate proof of Charlotte’s horrendous inability to judge people. She has no reliable instincts.

The real kicker of the novel is the relationship Schmidt develops with the billionaire Michael Mansour. Mansour, born of a Jewish family in Cairo, calls Schmidt early one morning — Schmidt is still in bed — and invites him to luncheon at his Olympic venue of a home, also in the Hamptons. Mansour is a piece of work. He is a megalomaniac, very pleased with himself and his billions, who met Schmidt through Gil, the filmmaker and Schmidt’s old college roomie, whose films Mansour now underwrites. Schmidt lunches with Mansour and the dialog here is not to be missed. Mansour proceeds to tell Schmidt everything that’s wrong with his life and what he must do to fix it. Mansour comes on very strong. He’s right there on the border between charming and obnoxious. As I read these pages my jaw was dropping. The exchanges are astonishing and, as they say, alone worth the price of admission.

The relationship between Mansour and Schmidt reminded me very much of the relationship between Charlie Citrine and Von Humboldt Fleisher in Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift (1975). The tenor of the dialog is so close to that of the presumed model, but Begley makes it entirely fresh, entirely new, and carries his readers delightedly off in other directions. However, like Bellow Begley is able to nail down the big egos. Even the billionaire's name is intriguing, isn’t it? Mansour. Man Sour. It gets the reader’s mind working. Does it suggest a misanthrope?

The last major character to be discussed is Carrie. She is the Latina beauty whom Schmidt steals away from a grim life waiting tables at a local restaurant. She’s a good girl, raised right, but she is also 25 and at the height of her sexually active years. It seems impossible that he has found her, that he has secured her, but Begley makes it believeable. And Carrie’s presence in the book is a purposeful contrast to that of Schmidt's daughter, Charlotte, who, though given everything during her upbringing, is an ingrate and a shrew.

The last third of the book is a killer. I read it through the pain of heartbreak. Schmidt is too old for Carrie. This limitation in their relationship is bound to manifest itself sooner or later. When she informs Schmidt of her affair with Jason, Mansour’s security man who is her own age, one reads on with astonishment as Schmidt comports himself with a level of dignity that should serve as a model for all of us when exiting relationships. The last third of this book is fire and ice. Wow. What a book! What a writer! ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
this book confirmed that i don't like his writing style at all. but it also clarified more about why i didn't like about schmidt. he writes about this main character that is a petty, annoying, unlikeable man, which is an ok thing to do. but he gives us no insight into his motivation or into what makes him this person, so we can't relate at all, or care at all. this crystallized for me in the first third of this book, which i found such a waste (why was i reading again about this man i couldn't stand, who was doing things that didn't seem believable, with writing i don't like). somehow, the last two thirds, until the final 10 pages or so, became much more entertaining. i don't know what happened, but it was suddenly more readable. not that i'm recommending it. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345440838, Paperback)

Recently widowed, Albert Schmidt has triumphantly rediscovered domestic bliss in the Hamptons with Carrie, the Puerto Rican waitress who is younger than his daughter. Schmidt is content with keeping his own hours and steering his own course, even as he becomes entertained--and increasingly ensnared-- by the odd billionaire Michael Mansour. Among Schmidt's other heartbreaks and delights is the scandal engulfing his detested son-in-law. Where will it all lead? Is Mansour a true friend or just a big cat playing with a WASP mouse? Can May and December remain on the same calendar as the sun sets? Through it all, one thing is clear: Schmidt has found a new life far beyond the deck chair.

With the elegance and mordant wit readers have come to expect of him, Louis Begley has created a magnificent story of how virtue may be rewarded.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:35 -0400)

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Retired lawyer Albert Schmidt enjoys life in the Hamptons with his young new wife Carrie while his daughter's marriage founders.

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