I thought this was a very interesting premise for a book, in which actual authors become characters in the story. Wolff’s story takes place in 1960 at an elite Eastern prep school for boys, which takes pride in its literary connections and achievements. The plot revolves around the school’s literary contest, whose winners are given an audience with famous authors.
Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway are featured and, at a reception in Rand’s honor, students and faculty participate in an extended discussion of her characters and philosophies in The Fountainhead.
There are more complex parts of the story as well. The narrator, on scholarship to the school, is acutely aware of class distinction and privilege and keeps his modest background and Jewish heritage a secret. He struggles with his own self-image as he mirrors the looks and actions of his wealthy classmates, inviting the false assumption of wealth and class. The contest puts him at the center of a scandal that reveals deceptions and radiates to classmates and faculty. Its conclusion shows Wolff’s characters in their true form.
I found the ending to be a bit of a let-down, but overall, an interesting read.
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