The Fundamentals of Play: A Novel
AbeBooks Seller Since August 14, 1998Quantity Available: 1
AbeBooks Seller Since August 14, 1998Quantity Available: 1
About this Item
Title: The Fundamentals of Play: A Novel
Publisher: Random House, New York
Publication Date: 2000
Signed: Signed by Author(s)
Edition: Reprint. Second printing.
About this title
"Kate was what you wanted, somehow, in this infinitely ironic age. She was the kind of girl about whom other girls used to say, 'All right, so she's thin but,' trying vainly to suss out the appeal. And even now, when her name comes up, and with it the sulky protest it invariably evokes--'She's not that great'--I do not feel compelled to argue in her defense."
Some fiction debuts have remarkably strong stories, some have refreshing new voices, some have perfect cultural timing. The Fundamentals of Play is that literary rarity which has all three.
George Lenhart is, chronically, in love with Kate Goodenow. So is Nick Beale, the working-class son of a Maine lobsterman from the town where Kate spent her childhood summers. So is Chat Wethers, an old-money friend of George's from Dartmouth. And so is Harry Lombardi, a brilliant, startlingly successful, but socially awkward Dartmouth upstart who has been trying to enter this circle for years.
It is George who tells the interwoven stories of these five young people, some of whom, in their lineage or finances, represent the last gasp of the old Northeastern Upper Class. Starting with the year after college, when they all land in Manhattan, George describes the good times and disappointments, ambition and manners, sexual secrets and money-cursed friendships, that have tied these people to one another for a lifetime. He tells of Nick's charismatic past and drug-ridden present, and he shows the snobbery and avarice that lurk in Kate's background--in stark contrast to her ineffable allure. And as George tells these stories (and observes Harry's spectacular rise in the new, as-yet-unnamed phenomenon of the Internet), he implicitly chronicles the end of an era and the emergence of a new definition of class--just as The Fundamentals of Play represents the emergence of a distinctive new talent in American fiction.
"I was guilty enough already, guilty of the same old thing since grade school: guilty of having come from a family that had had the lack of foresight--the poor taste, really--to come down in the world. It was almost anti-American, losing money the way we had." So muses George Lenhart, the ruefully ironic narrator of The Fundamentals of Play, Caitlin Macy's debut novel about money, class, and twentysomething relationships in the 1990s. Set in New England and New York City, this tale follows its characters from an old world of public schools and Maine summer houses, where the mention of money is vulgar but the lack of it even more so, into the brazen world of the new economy, where up-and-comers with no "name" are changing the rules of the game.
Before having come to work in the city, nothing much had threatened the sheltered and well-heeled lifestyles of the pedigreed Lenhart, his wealthy college roommate Chat Wethers, and their mutual childhood friend, the classically aloof Kate Goodenow. Nothing, that is, except for a shared (and silent) envy of Kate's high school boyfriend, Nick Beale, the poor "year-rounder" from the Maine coastal village turned boarding-school beneficiary turned pot-smoking dropout with exceptional sailing prowess and a passion for the Caribbean. Nick represents life lived without a script, and his story weaves in and out of the others' with a spontaneity that they so patently lack. His is a known spontaneity, though, and when the less definable one of skill, ambition, and new wealth--in the form of socially inept computer wizard Harry Lombardi--enters their sphere, the threads of the old world begin to fray. George looks on, bemused, as his class-conscious friends make careless (but transparently desperate) attempts to adjust their values, loyalties, and relationships.
Macy is adept at capturing the nuances of this last generation of aristocrats, caught between a desire for the past's fading gentility and the pressures of a faster game with a less rigid code of conduct. As George wryly admits, "It is hard to be reckless and still have one's shirts starched." Macy's language occasionally reflects the incongruous juxtaposition of these two worlds, mixing words like "foppishly" and "fleece" rather clumsily together, and her narrator speaks in a vernacular that seems far older than his mere 23 years, conjuring up visions of a Wharton-era New York rather than the city of the last decade. Her eye for odd details is deliciously surreptitious, however, and always viciously acute: she can paint sideline characters' entire personalities with one tidy turn of phrase, such as "Her face was tan--the whole party was filled with parents who had better tans than their children--and she wore pink lipstick that sat on her lips and beamed when they beamed." The Fundamentals of Play rides along on such observations, rewarding its readers with a glimpse into a (thankfully) disappearing world. --S. Ketchum
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