Louis Begley: Schmidt Steps Back
Thursday March 22, 2012
View: Part 2
The beloved character of Albert Schmidt returns in Center for Fiction favorite Louis Begley's new novel Schmidt Steps Back. The author read from and discussed his latest book.
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.
Louis Begley lives in New York City. His previous novels are About Schmidt, As Max Saw It, The Man Who Was Late, Matters of Honor, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, Shipwreck, and Wartime Lies.