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Schmidt Steps Back [Hardcover]

Louis Begley

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Book Description

13 Mar 2012
When we last saw Albert Schmidt Esq. (“Schmidtie” to all near and dear), he had been expelled from paradise: his love Carrie, the Puerto Rican waitress forty years his junior, had taken up with a blond giant nearer her age and possibly the father of her baby—assuming it isn’t Schmidt. Meanwhile, his only confirmed child, Charlotte, had proposed a truce in their perennially strained relations, which Schmidt accepted, despite its obliging him to resume dealings with her repulsive husband and her mother-in-law-cum-psychiatrist, whose life’s work has been turning Charlotte decisively against Schmidt.
The curtain rises on Schmidt Steps Back some thirteen years later: New Year’s Eve 2008, the dawn of the age of Obama. Schmidt’s affection for the young president-elect is boundless, and as he imagines a better day for his country, he dares to hope there’s one for him too. It so happens Schmidtie is readying his Hamptons house for the visit of a lady from Paris: the irresistible Alice Verplanck, widow of his former law partner and surely a more appropriate prospect for a man now seventy-eight. But there’s a history, and it’s complicated. In fact, Schmidt hasn’t seen Alice since the summer of 1995, when he behaved like a brute upon discovering a betrayal of sorts and pronounced her unworthy of his unstinting love and commitment. Alice is finally ready to forgive him, but she still doubts that Schmidtie can ever be content. She demands that he think long and hard about their past, and while he’s at it Schmidtie finds himself also reviewing the reversals and tragedies that have brought him to an unimagined isolation and loneliness. With no family he can claim but Carrie, now married and expecting a second child, and only two real friends left—his college roommate Gil Blackman and the irrepressible billionaire Mike Mansour—Schmidt sees in Alice’s impending visit his last chance, before the sun sets on the Hamptons, for a life that is more than merely staying alive.
At once darkly funny and deeply poignant, Schmidt Steps Back is the most emotionally nuanced installment of the drama that began with the acclaimed About Schmidt. Here is Louis Begley’s finest novel yet.

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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating very dry humorous comedy of manners 13 Mar 2012
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
On New Year's Eve 2008, septuagenarian retired lawyer Albert Schmidt feels like a randy teenager as his late partner's wife Alice Verplanck is arriving from Paris to see him in the Hamptons. He thinks back to 1995 when her spouse mysteriously died and they began an affair that he destroyed with his accusations of betrayal. Although Alice has doubts about Schmidt, she agreed to see him if he steps back to evaluate his life.

Meanwhile Schmidt's dysfunctional relationship with his daughter Charlotte had turned worse when she married a pathetic man whose mother is a modern day Machiavelli shrink. The psychiatrist mother-in-law subtly worked a campaign that insured Schmidt became unacceptable to his daughter. Pregnant and with one child already, Charlotte offers her dad a reconciliation, which he accepts though that means dealing with a weak son-in-law and the man's mother from hell masquerading as a psychiatrist trying to widen the Schmidt chasm.

The third Schmidt character study (see About Schmidt and Schmidt Delivered) is a fascinating very dry humorous comedy of manners. The title character is terrific as he regrets some of his choices and fears he will rue his choice to reconcile with his daughter and meet his grandchild. Droll and witty, fans of the Schmidt saga will enjoy what symbolizes a senior citizen as the hero recognizes only he and two friends are still upright; while wondering who will be the last one standing at their funerals.

Harriet Klausner
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Boring and Loathsome Lack of Moral Values 23 Mar 2012
By L. Young - Published on Amazon.com
Begley's third Schmidt novel is populated by a world of loathsome men lacking in all moral values, and beautiful women ready, willing and able to satisfy the men's lust at a moments notice. This outing finds Schmidtie, the old goat, at 78 lusting for the gorgeous French widow of a former junior law partner in what used to be referred to as Schmidt's white-shoe law firm. White-shoe, meaning a powerful, large law firm made up of male WASP lawyers. Only Harvard and Yale law school graduates need apply. Okay, they occasionally let in a Columbia grad. What horrors!

'Schmidt Steps Back' describes a world of high powered, privileged attorneys, and billionaire financiers who bounce between NYC, the Hamptons, Paris and the Cote d'Azur on private planes and helicopters and Rolls Royce limos constantly imbibing martinis, cognac and high priced wines. Gallons of this stuff is consumed during the course of this novel along with pounds of lobster salad and French cheeses. It was enough to crater my diet. Admittedly Schmidt is a generous man. His former mistress, a drop-dead gorgeous Puerto Rican waitress forty years his junior lives in his pool house with her new husband and soon to be born baby who just might be Schmidt's. He understands completely why she has left him and bestowns a million dollars on her and further promises to provide for the child. Of course he can't get along with his daughter, Charlotte. Why should she like him knowing he cheated on her mother numerous times over the years. Of course Charlotte isn't too thrilled with the Puerto Rican child mistress who is now pregnant, either.

Schmidt a member of Obama's One Percent assuages his guilt by being an ardent Obama fan (the novel opens just after Obama's 2008 election)and supporter of liberal causes. Now retired from the law, he works for a non-profit set up by one of his billionaire friends which helps the disadvantaged in Eastern European. All of this might be tolerable if I thought Begley was actually making fun of Schmidt and his social mileu, but I doubt this. He seems far to fond of the intolerable Schmidtie and has dedicated himself three times to writing about his vacuous adventures. This novel is nothing more than almost 400 pages of unending alcoholic consumption and sexual yearning while flying to Paris, back to New York then back to Paris with occasional stops in other locales. Quite frankly its a bore. Still Begley writes well, so I'll give him three stars.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bourbon or Gin-Tonic? 4 April 2012
By Diethelm Thom - Published on Amazon.com
You again find many elements in this book which you find in Begley's life as well: He is of the same age as his hero Schmidt, he had the same job, is married in a second marriage to a rich, beautiful woman (two years younger than him, historian, writer, living in Paris), and he has three grown-up kids of his own (two sons, one daughter). Schmidt, similarly, wants to marry again, this time beautiful Alice, 15 years younger than him, working in the literary scene in Paris. He has one daughter only, Charlotte, but she gives him enough to worry about. Making thus use of his authentic life material in a modified form, it helps to produce a realistic touch in the story, but the story is then enriched according to the needs and fantasies of its author - and perhaps a large target group of readers?

Sex fantasies, consequently, play a great role. Schmidt is in spite of his almost 80 years sexually almost as potent as ever and when he fantasizes about Alice it is about her as a desirable sex object mostly. It is true, Alice is independent and working on her career, but we do not regard her as a person in her own right, she is just a desirable, attractive woman, and the narrator more often than not describes her in terms of pure kitsch (e.g. when after their first night together in bed she steps out into the morning light accompanied by the melodies of Beethoven's ninth symphony and in a long black velvet dress).

This element of wishful thinking also shows in the predominating fairy-tale character of the novel. Begley with his well-known elegant prose moves in a world without any material problems. In the first third of the novel, before the problems with Charlotte turn up, the novel is about as interesting as an appointment diary, and the question "bourbon or gin-tonic?" almost assumes an existential importance. Whenever problems turn up, Schmidt helps out with his millions. Or, if Schmidt must be helped, e.g. when he has to jet back to New York to help his daughter when he has just landed in Paris, Mike Mansour, his friend and billionaire, helps out offering him his private jet. (By the way, the name and behaviour of this friend can remind one of Hauff's fairy-tale "Calif Stork". The calif (Chasid = Schmidt) and his vizier (Mansor) together have many pretty adventures, they too fly across the lands and in the end liberate a beautiful princess (Lusa = Alice) who had been enchanted into an owl. Just coincidence?).

As Schmidt becomes more radical in the way he talks to his unloved son-in-law and mother-in-law, the incidents and accidents become more radical, too. There are two lethal accidents, of which the second one proves to be especially wholesome to Schmidt in that it does away with his also unloved rival, a certain Popov. I am still deep in thoughts about the horrible first accident - how could a man like Begley think out such an accident? Please read and find an answer.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Liked It but... 22 April 2013
By JAK - Published on Amazon.com
I was favorably disposed towards this novel for two reasons, I'd read both previous Schmidt novels and I was delighted that it began with a quote from one of my favorite poems - Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop.My mood shifted on the first page with Schmidt on a New Year meditating on the joy that Obama's election to the presidency has brought him.Then Schmidt explains he's a life long Democrat who just loved Adlai Stevenson.So here's an affluent attorney from one of those old style"white shoe" firms, a WASP bigot who dislikes Catholics and Jews but at core he has the soul of a Village Reform Democrat.Oh what nonsense!Schmidt is a native New Yorker who is from a background where he couldn't have stood being in a room with the kind of people who were Democrats in New York in the '50s and '60s . He's no FDR!He's not an idealist or remotely altruistic.He is a cynical, sophisticated womanizer and user who is quite at home with his money and perks.I rather like Schmidt but this I could do without.Unfortunately Begley periodically injects references to politics and current events throughout the novel and it adds nothing. His 9/11 commentary is positively sophomoric.I hate it when exploiters are supposed to be patted on the back because they think "nice" thoughts all the way to to bank and that's what Begley does to Schmidt here and it's unfair.

Thankfully Begley resists the temptation to utterly ruin the novel by making it relevant.I enjoyed it thoroughly.Schmidt has now become Mike Mansour's ( think George Soros) employee and protege.His young girlfriend who is pregnant, maybe by Schmidt, has married a young man and Schmidt is pursuing Alice the widow of a former partner at his firm.His daughter Charlotte, her husband and family remain as loathsome as ever.Begley knows how to tell a story .He's witty , funny and can be a moving writer.He is so sophisticated at depicting certain elements of New York society- Jews and WASPS and lawyers of both kinds- that I still can't figure out why he decided to turn Schmidt into his doppelganger here. Bad fit! That said, the most important thing to know about this book is that it is a pleasure to read.By all means read all the Schmidt novels and see Jack Nicholson as someone of that name in About Schmidt , a good movie with a vague connection to the novel.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars schmidt steps back 25 May 2012
By charliemey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The author also wrote About Schmidt, from which this was similar or a sequel. Liked both stories. They are about a retired man and his activities. Very realistic mostly and held my attention throughout. About Schmidt was made into a good movie starring Jack Nickleson.
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